I was watching the conclusion to the Seniors Open Championship played at Royal Birkdale the other day. An American golfer, Mark Wiebe had finished on 9 under and the great German golfer Bernhard Langer was 2 shots better on 11 under with just the last hole, a long par 4 to play. After hitting a perfect tee shot and despite his approach shot just catching the green side bunker it seemed like the trophy would be his. Langer has the reputation of being one of the best bunker players during his professional career and he was faced with a straight forward shot from the trap. Unbelievably he left the ball in the bunker and even though he followed it with a great shot he missed the 10 foot bogey putt to force a play-off. After a couple of holes in quickly fading light they returned the next morning and eventually Mark Weibe won.
Golf history has many examples of great players who have suffered blows like this and it has left permanent damage to their confidence. It remains to be seen how Bernhard deals with this setback. What we do know is people are more likely to have their confidence undermined by failure than have it boosted by success. The feelings that accompany success can be infuriatingly brief yet the emotions that go with failure, especially public failure, can dent our confidence for a long time. There is a reason for this and it has to do with a little module in the brain called the amygdala. This little almond shape area uses hormones and neurotransmitters to highlight negative experiences. It’s a bit like underlining certain texts to make them stand out. Research has also shown that we often remember positive experiences as a general sensation whereas we remember negative ones in richer and more complex detail.
When top golfers are interviewed after a bad round or slump in form, especially the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, they always focus on the positive things. You will hear them say stuff like “I struck the ball really good today” or “I’m happy with the progress I’m making in my swing”. This trait is very common among successful sports people and is often referred to a selective memory. Because self-efficacy is rooted in perceived success, making our memories full of perceived success rather than failure is an important process we need to do if we are to bounce back from golfing setbacks. This is the same process we all need to follow in our own minds, not matter how big or small the negative experience.
Appointments with Paul for golf lessons in Wicklow can be booked via Powerscourt Golf Club Reception: Tel (01) 204 6033 or the Golf Shop Tel (01) 204 6031. Read more about lessons from Paul Thompson by visiting the Powerscourt Golf Club Website.