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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DJ triples last hole, opens with 76 at Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 6:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Dustin Johnson’s chances of winning The Open are likely already over.

The world No. 1 hit his tee shot out of bounds on 18 on his way to a triple bogey, capping a miserable day that left him with a 5-over 76, 10 shots off the lead and in danger of missing the cut.

Johnson didn’t talk to reporters afterward, but there wasn’t much to discuss.

He didn’t make a birdie until the par-5 14th, bogeyed 16 and then made 7 on Carnoustie's home hole when his tee shot caromed out of bounds left.

Johnson has missed the cut only once in nine previous appearances at The Open – in his first try in 2009.

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'The Golf Club 2019' adds Elvy to commentary team

By Nick MentaJuly 19, 2018, 4:45 pm

“The Golf Club 2019” is adding a new name to its commentary team.

Broadcaster Luke Elvy will join returning announcer and HB Studios developer John McCarthy for the title's third installment.

Golf fans will recognize Elvy from his recent work with CBS in addition to his time with Sky Sports, FOX Sports, TNT, PGA Tour Live and PGA Tour Radio.

A 25-year media veteran from Australia, he now works in the United States and lives with his family in Canada.

"Ian Baker-Finch was my right-hand man on Australian televison," Elvy told GolfChannel.com in an interview at the Quicken Loans National. "And Finchy said to me, 'What are you doing here? You should be with me in the States.’ He introduced me to a few people over here and that's how the transition has happened over the last five or six years."

Elvy didn't have any prior relationship with HB Studios, who reached out to him via his management at CAA. As for why he got the job, he pseudo-jokes: "They heard the accent, and said, 'We like that. That works for us. Let's go.' That's literally how it happened."

He participated in two separate recording sessions over three days, first at his home back in February and then at the HB Studios shortly after The Players Championship. He teased his involvement when the game was announced in May.

Although he doesn't describe himself as a "gamer," Elvy lauded the game's immediate playability, even for a novice.

“It’s exactly how you’d want golf to be,” he said.

"The Golf Club 2019" will be the first in the HB series to feature PGA Tour branding. The Tour had previously licensed its video game rights to EA Sports.

In addition to a career mode that will take players from the Web.com Tour all the way through the FedExCup Playoffs, "The Golf Club 2019" will also feature at launch replicas of six TPC courses played annually on Tour – TPC Summerlin (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic/WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“I played nine holes at Scottsdale,” Elvy added. “It’s a very close comparison. Visually, it’s very realistic."

The Golf Club 2019 is due out this August on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”