By Dr. Deborah Graham and Jon Stabler
We found eight personality traits separated the great golfers on Tour from the other Tour players after testing and working with members of the LPGA, PGA, and CHAMPIONS Tours in 1980-81 and from 1989 to 1992. We have confirmed those traits in our work with the Tour players and other competitive golfers since then.
Analyzing the data was exciting because not only did eight personality traits for great golf emerge, each one of them measured in the 95th percentile, or was important more than 95% of the time for the great players, the frequent winners in the studies.
Chances are good that you already have some of these champion traits. But the odds are very strongly against you having all eight of them. Even Bobby Jones & Tiger Woods have had to work on a few of them. Take a quick read and see how many of the eight traits are “in your bag”.
How good are you at eliminating distractions whether they are coming from outside or inside your head? Extroverts, intense thinkers and left-brainers need the most work on this one. Their thoughts can go anywhere and everywhere when over the ball, instead of simply seeing and feeling their shot or putt.
The solution is a simple, powerful, effective, and consistent mental pre-shot routine. If you do not have a good one, get one. Watch the free mental routine video on this site and read the first chapter of our book, “The Eight Traits of Champion Golfers”.
Twenty percent of your round, at most, is spent executing shots and putts. This means eighty percent, or more, of the time you spend playing a round of golf is time you should be managing your thoughts! The “intellectual” and “worrier” types need the most work here.
What you think about between shots influences your ability to use your mental routine once you get to the ball. A bit of advice–stop using time between shots to ponder or stew about things that are out of your control, like “where do I stand in the round?”, “how irritating can this playing partner get?” or “that shot I blew on the last hole!” and other such wastes of mental energy.
Instead choose to think of carefree and relaxing things like “wow, it’s great to be outdoors today” or “isn’t that a beautiful tree”. You could even have a friendly light chat with your caddie or playing partner, or think about what great restaurant you are going to tonight, or imagine being back on your favorite vacation.–whatever–so long as it is simple and calming to you.
Before you begin your next competitive round, set a goal of saying something positive after every single shot and putt no matter what the outcome. Can you do it? Sounds easy, but most golfers can’t.
Let’s say you have a hole-in-one. Could you manage the excitement (yours and others) well enough to play the next hole well?
It becomes a bad habit to react to less than perfect shots and putts. Whether the heads drops, arms flail, face scrunches or clubs fly, you may think it is a necessary release but this ultimately costs you strokes.
Same on the positive side of the scale. While it’s fun, it’s not always good to let the emotions go and fists pump after a really great shot, putt or hole.
Challenge yourself to look (and feel) as close to the same as possible after every shot. To do this, you will probably need to break a few habits first. Start by trying to give yourself no more than two seconds to react to or think about a previous shot. Then immediately take your focus to something you can control…like your great mental routine on your next shot!
Like the old story about the 3 bears, you can be too dominant, not dominant enough or you can be “juuuuust right” to play your best. Just right requires a slightly aggressive approach which we refer to as playing with “finesse”, not “force”.
Prior to competition take a second look at your plan for playing the course (You do have one, don’t you?) If you are typically aggressive, ask yourself if your plan consists only of shots you have a better than a 50% chance of executing well under pressure. If not, change your plan on those high risk shots.
If you are typically very conservative, look at your plan and choose a hole or two that you will push the envelope a bit. Choose a shot or two where you can take a little more risk and try to get more out of your current skills.
If the “nice guy” in you makes it uncomfortable to beat someone you know and like; if you feel a strong urge to help the guy who is choking; if you are an easy target for “gamesmanship”; or if you are easily thrown off by poor weather, bad conditions or being timed, you are probably not tough-minded.
During competition, you must be selfish and hard-headed enough to make your game and your performance your single purpose.
If need be, tell yourself that while competing you are wearing your “competitor” hat and after the round you can put on your “nice guy” or “worrier” hat. This in no way means you cannot be polite or friendly, just don’t get emotionally involved with what is happening around you.
No way around it, confidence is vital for top competitive golf. Two types are necessary: performance confidence and personal confidence.
Performance confidence is confidence in your golfing skills and is enhanced with the 3 p’s–Practice, Preparation and Problem solving. (We hope this site helps you with all three!)
Personal confidence is confidence in yourself. Personal confidence is a bit more difficult to change. But you can start by encouraging and complimenting instead of trashing yourself; graciously accept compliments instead of dissing them; and always talking about the good in your round before even thinking of the bad.
Ever have a hard time making decisions? Or committing to the decisions you do make? If so, you probably need to work on self-sufficiency.
One of the first things you will need to do is trust your own first impressions.
Don’t even look in someone elses’ bag or ask what they used–trust your own decisions. It is vital for playing your best. One thing we have learned for sure: if you did not make the decision, you are less likely to fully commit to it, and if you are not committed to it, you are even less likely to hit it well.
No, not that kind of arousal. We are talking “busy mind and/or tense body” here. The kind that makes your walk, talk, think, breathe and swing faster–and makes your adrenaline soar. Not good for golf.
You can be under-aroused too–when you give up, are bored, your mind wanders and your focus is a mile wide–though this is less common in competitive golf.
If you are over-aroused you will need to work on learning skills for relaxing on cue. We use biofeedback training in our weekend schools to get players there “fast”. But there is a lot that you can do on your own. Start by finding a technique you are interested in and then get books, dvds or classes that help you learn things like deep breathing, relaxation exercises, meditation, prayer, yoga, pilates, etc.
If you are under-aroused, set some motivating goals.
So how many of the eight traits for great golf do you have? Figure out the one that Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods both had to work on? How about Jack Nicklaus? If you need help with any one of them watch for GolfPsych.com posts on each.
Over the years we have developed lots and lots of tools and techniques to help our players learn and manage these essential champion traits for golf. You will find a lot of general tips and techniques to help you with each of the eight traits for great golf in postings on this web site and in our book “The Eight Traits of Champion Golfers”.
For more specific and personalized direction use our online Personality Assessment and Comparison to the 8 Champion Traits with recommendations or attend one of our GolfPsych Game Builder Weekend Schools