Dear Dr. Divot,
I’m 16 and I play a lot of golf. I tried out for the High School team last year and I even play in some tournaments. My handicap index is 10.3. My problem is that I can’t seem to keep my emotions under control. I get really upset with myself when I miss a shot or when I lose a match. I’m not proud of the way I act sometimes, but I can’t help it…I just want to win so bad.
My mom thinks I should give up tournament golf. What do you think?
The Doc understands that you want to be the best you can be, but some days you just don’t have your best game with you. That’s one of the great (and frustrating) things about our game. But you’ve got to learn to get out of your own way. Losing your temper on the course only leads to tension and that, in turn leads to more bad shots.
Some of the greatest players of all-time have gone through rough patches in their games. You rarely see them lose it on the golf course. They have learned a very important lesson, Furious, the only things you can control are your ball, your game and your temper.
There is no cross-checking, no tackling or blocking, and no defense in golf. You never get to hit a shot with your opponent’s ball. In the end, it’s you vs. you.
Jack Nicklaus had more runner-up finishes in majors than his record 18 victories, but he never dodged the media when he lost and he always gave credit to the good play of his fellow competitors. Because he tried his best on every shot he knew that he had given it everything he had on that day.
Annika won 72 times in her career, but I never saw her lose her temper or “go postal” on the course. Her grace and dignity when she lost, as well as the class she showed in victory, are the things the ol’ Doc remembers the most about her great career.
In my day it was Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson; today it’s Tiger, Mickelson and McElroy who are setting the mark for good sportsmanship on the golf course.
And who can forget Rocco (“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”) Mediate at the 2008 US Open? With everything on the line, after 91 holes going head-to-head with Tiger, he was gracious and magnanimous in defeat. He gave it his best effort. It’s a great lesson, Furious. No matter how bad he wanted to win a major, no matter how great he played…some days the other guy just plays better. Live with it.
I usually don’t get between a boy and his mother in matters like this. But I think you should continue to play in tournaments and to play against the best players you can – including adults. That means you’ll probably lose more than you’ll win, but in the long run, it will make you a better player and – if you overcome your temper – a better person. If you don’t, no one will want to play with you anyway…problem solved!
Here’s the Doc’s prescription for what ails you, Furious (I just wish I had thought of it first). Tape this to your bathroom mirror and read it every day:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your legacy.
As much as you want to win, it’s not the quality of your golf, it’s the quality of your character that matters most. That’s your legacy.
Work on that temper and stay out of your own way, Furious. You’ll be all right.
Dr. C B Divot