Psycho-babble or Psycho-truth

By Randall MellApril 22, 2009, 4:00 pm
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Kenny Perry said he didnt choke at the Masters, but in the wake of his disappointing finish he derided himself as an average player.
 
Did he get it backwards?
 
Is he an exceptional player whose nerves got the best of him at Augusta National?
 
Tiger Woods insisted he was just a fraction off at the Masters even though he finished 42nd in driving accuracy and 45th in putting among the 50 players who made the cut.
 
Kenny Perry missed a string of critical shots down the stretch at the Masters. (Getty Images)
Was Woods fooling himself?
 
A year ago this week, Woody Austin hit two terrible shots at the 72nd hole of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans to blow a chance to win and proclaimed himself the biggest choking dog ever.
 
Did that blunt assessment reveal deeper issues that may be getting in Austins way of winning?
 
In golfs cruel endings, when players fail on the games largest stages, do the words they choose in the emotional aftermath really matter?
 
Sports psychologists do some of their most meaningful work roaming the mental carnage defeat causes like triage doctors of the mind. They listen, they learn and they prescribe medicine.
 
What theyve learned is that defeat is a cruel teacher, all too eager to strip away fraud and pretense to expose delicate truths.
 
The most heartbreaking defeats can roll through a players mind like an earthquake, leaving only the sturdiest beliefs standing amid the rubble.
 
The games played in a little world of make believe, says sports psychologist Bob Rotella.
 
Do words matter in emotional aftermaths?
 
Sports psychologists will tell you they do matter, but that belief trumps truth in those words. And theyll tell you theres a difference between believing and fooling yourself.
 
Do words matter? Absolutely, says Gio Valiante, a professor in the department of education at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., who works with tour pros. Words and cognition are powerfully related. Thats why writing a journal, or talking through a problem, helps people. The things we hear, or tell ourselves, theyre very, very powerful.
 
Dr. Joseph Parent, creator of Zen Golf, says players who beat themselves up as choking dogs the way Austin did risk injury that lingers long after a shot.
 
When you say something like that, youre not only saying it, youre hearing it, and if youre hearing something too much, youre going to start believing it, Parent said.
 
The nature of golf, maybe more than any other sport, challenges the way players talk to themselves.
 
Golf is probably the most assaultive sport on the sense of self that there is, says Preston Waddington, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., psychoanalyst who works with Stewart Cink, Tim Clark, Jason Gore and others.
 
Waddington said tour pros can go from feeling exalted to deep self loathing from one shot to the next.
 
The refrain of every golfer Ive ever worked with is: `I stink, Waddington said. Its almost a mantra. Golf is a very, very shaming sport. Every single golfer Ive dealt with is scared to death of being shamed. You touch on that with a player, you have their attention.
 
Its why players find the notion that they choked away a tournament so offensive.
 
Choke is one of those three words golfers dont like to use, Parent said. Shank, yips and choke. Golfers are superstitious. They think if they say one of those words, they might do it.
 
NBC-TV analyst Johnny Miller touches nerves among players, in part, because of his zealous dissection of the choke factor.
 
Really, guys choke all the time, Rotella said. But people tend to think that means a player was scared to death. What it really means is that you have some doubt in your head. We use the terminology, `Getting in your own way. The mind isnt clear.
 
Golf teaches that its OK to have a swing flaw, but its not OK to have doubt or fear. If you have doubt or fear, you arent a man. We all have doubt and fear. Its about who can control it. Its why we play the game.
 
By Rotellas definition, choking can occur when a player over a shot clutters his head with thoughts that shouldnt be there.
 
Most recreational players never hit a shot with a clear mind, Rotella said. Most people dont understand what its like to be totally clear, where your mind is quiet.
 
It really doesnt take much to get in your own way. If a player has any question about his ball position, his alignment, anything like that, its going to show up in the shot. Thats why its so cool when somebody steps up [under pressure] and trusts his swing and hits a great shot. We ought to spend more time praising Trevor Immelman and Angel Cabrera for stepping up and hitting great shots to win the Masters the last two years than talking so much about players who didnt.
 
Words in the aftermath matter to Rotella because they reveal what clears and clutters the mind.
 
You can prime somebody for a given behavior by exposing them to certain words, Valiante said. I can prime you to do a lot of different things with you unaware that youre being primed.
 
Valiantes proven it in social experiments at Rollins College. In one experiment, he has measured the time it takes subjects to walk from the doorway of his building to his office. While in his office, he drops words related to Floridas retirement community image, words like elderly and geriatric and other such words. He says the subjects are consistently timed walking at a slower pace upon leaving the building. He can cite similar experiments where subjects act aggressively and rudely when primed with certain words.
 
Thats why we pay close attention to the words we use with players, Valiante said. We spend so much time finding just the right word. Camilo (Villegas) likes the word flow when talking about putting. He likes it when his putting is flowing.
 
Preparing at Augusta National earlier this month, Villegas sent a text message to Valiante before a practice round.
 
Camilo said he was going to respect the course, not fear it, Valiante said. Finding the right word to transform your mindset can be the key. Words absolutely matter. Anyone who doesnt believe that should pay attention to how Tiger Woods uses words.
 
Woods insistence that he was just a fraction off at the Masters was classic Woods. What he believes becomes his reality.
 
Tiger was once asked something like, `If God would only allow you to win one major, which major would you choose? Valiante said. Tigers response was, `Knowing me, I would argue with him and want to know why I couldnt have four. Tiger doesnt allow himself to contemplate less than what hes trying to achieve.
 
In ice skating, when Tara Lapinsky had that perfect routine to win the gold medal over Michelle Kwan [in 1998], Michelle was asked if she were crushed she didnt win the gold. Michelle gave the perfect example of what you want athletes to say in those situations. She said, `I didnt lose the gold medal. I won the silver medal. How you interpret an experience dictates whether you leave confident or fearful. Words absolutely matter.
 
Kenny Perry said he spent the early morning hours after the Masters driving around in his car for three hours, contemplating what happened at Augusta National. He formulated an interpretation of the experience.
 
I wouldnt consider it choking, Perry said. I was nervous, yes. But I was enjoying it. I was actually thriving on it more than I ever have in the past. So I havent beaten myself up much about this deal. I really havent. Ive enjoyed it. To me, its given me a shot of confidence more than it has deterred me from getting after it more.
 
Thats what Valiante would call neuro-linguistic programming.
 
In the end, what matters is how much Perry believes those words.
 
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Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."