If you like sports in general, you’re probably interested in what’s going on in the heads of top players. When it comes to golf, unless your name is Dustin Johnson, the opportunity for chaotic mental activity and self-defeating thought loops is as massive as any other sport.
We, laymen and laywomen that we are, assume the best golfers in the world are unshakable pillars of self-belief. “Can I pull this shot off?” “Of course I can,” we imagine them thinking. So, when Jordan Spieth says something like the following (per Ben Everill of PGATour.com), it’s pretty shocking.
“I face self-doubt on a daily basis in tournament rounds.”
Sure, you’d imagine Spieth felt a bit of doubt in the wake of his 12th-hole debacle at the Masters in 2016, but every single round? And considering that so much of holing putts, particularly short putts, is about confidence, Spieth has often looked like the most confident guy in the world.
Extremely surprising stuff. And it’s the same story with Jason Day. Day, who turned in world-beating performances at the 2015 PGA Championship, 2016 Players Championship, but apparently banked no confidence capital with those wins and continues to struggle with self-belief.
“That’s one thing that I probably struggle with the most out of my whole game is the actual self-belief. When it’s there, I usually play some very, very good golf. I, like everyone else, will kind of struggle with certain things out here, but that’s one thing that I’ve always constantly been trying to get better at each and every year.”
And perhaps more interestingly, Jordan Spieth employs a curious trick to keep things in perspective and “detach from outcomes” (as the self-help gurus would suggest). Spieth’s strategy can be summed up in two words: Who cares?
“So what if I hit it in the water on this shot. I make a bogey; is that going to change my life? No. If I think about it that way, I’m more freed up.”
Of course, when you’ve banked tens of millions of dollars and have locked up status for two years on Tour thanks to your multiple wins, it may be a bit easier to be free than, say, a journeyman fighting to keep his card.
“And then if it goes in the water, I need to stick with that. That’s the toughest thing for me is being carefree and then not reacting if something doesn’t go well. I’m working on it and your mental game is something that we should be working on as much as we work on the physical components of our game.”
Spieth is right about the primacy of the mental game, of course. Most fans won’t be surprised to hear this. But the way in which top players struggle with confidence? Hard to believe the majority of golf fans conceived of their heroes as so mentally fragile.
It’s all a reminder of the great Bobby Jones words a century ago: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course… the space between your ears.”