Here are some tips to help you develop a dynamic mental approach to improve your golf.
When a pro match grows to a climax, the great player is apt to become slower and slower.
It is not that the putt on the last green is more difficult than that on the first; probably his experienced eye tells him all he needs to know about it at first glance.
But he potters about, sometimes to the annoyance of uninitiated spectators, until he has pushed all that the putt means out of his mind, until all he is conscious of is the feel of the stroke that will hole the ball.
The pupil, let us say, is making good progress. He is beginning to co-ordinate his game and build up his controls, when he suddenly takes himself off for an afternoon in an entirely different atmosphere—that of competitive golf, in which style means nothing and immediate results everything.
Of course his budding style and incipient control go overboard and end-gaining dominates. Everything is subordinate to getting the ball into the hole. It is only an intentionally established set of controls that can resist the temptation to force and guide the ball when much is at stake.
The general verdict is that the Hage had a “marvellous temperament for the game.” And what do we mean by that? My own interpretation is that the Hage had perfect psycho-physical equilibrium, that his mind and body were perfectly balanced and perfectly correlated for the purpose of the game of golf.
Walter Hagen had found by trial and error, as most of us do, how he could best hit the ball. He had got the feel of his shots thoroughly into his system and could pull them out whenever he wanted. While he was playing he inhibited any extraneous matters in the most effective way possible he refused to let them into that part of himself that was concerned with his golf. So he could play his best in circumstances that would have turned gray the hair of any less perfectly adjusted player.
Please note that the Hage did not concentrate in the accepted sense. He did not shut extraneous matters out of his mind; he merely shut them out of his golf. While he was playing he would talk intelligently about any subject that cropped up, stocks and shares, eating and drinking, politics or puritanism. Nothing, neither wind nor weather, bad greens, tight corners, or unduly chatty opponents, ever made the Hage tense. Consequently golf never exhausted him; he was as fresh at the end of a Championship as he was at its beginning.
Incidentally this mental limberness was not left behind on the last green. I remember talking to him at Sandwich on the day he won the British Open. He had finished and we sat and chatted for a long time while waiting to see if George Duncan would deprive him of the title which otherwise he had won. Well George very nearly did it, but Walter Hagen never batted an eyelid. He was as chatty, as cheerful, and as untense as ever—at the end of a week’s competitive golf with the whole issue of a three thousand mile trip in the balance.
I suppose everyone would agree that “self-control” as effective as that possessed by men like Hagen and Harry Vardon is a priceless quality. But how achieve it? It can only be done by building one’s golf into a closed, self-controlling circle, and then keeping extraneous matters outside that circle.
The reason why the neophyte and the player needing re-education find control so elusive is simply that their golf has not yet been built into such a closed circle. And if they only knew it they make things far worse by trying to learn golf and play golf at the same time. When that happens, pity the poor teacher!
Then, and not until then, he can hole it. If you want my idea of the ideal mental attitude to the game I will give it you in two words—Walter Hagen’s! Walter Hagen was not only one of the greatest golfers, he was one of the most buoyant. Wherever he played he simply oozed with the joy of life. The more he was up against it the better he played. He really enjoyed a fight and the harder it was the more superb his confidence.