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The Power of Perspective
Dr Karl Morris

In the shape of Northern Ireland’s two most recent major champions, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, the golfing world has marvelled at the way in which
two different and intriguing characters have dealt with adversity along the road to achieving their greatest success. As ever, the application of perspective has
been key to unlocking the ultimate performance

Rory McIlroy gloriously wins the US Open at Congressional with a sublime display of shot-making that breaks all kinds of US Open scoring records and, at just 22, becomes the youngest winner for 88 years. Barely a month later, Darren Clarke, at 42 a veteran of no fewer than twenty Open Championships, puts together four stunning rounds of golf at a windswept Royal St Georges to capture his first major title. Leaving aside the fact that these two great players come from Northern Ireland, the two victories could scarcely be farther apart in nature and yet, if we dig a little deeper, I think you’ll agree there’s a common psychological key – and one that, channelled correctly, could have a big impact on your own game.

To do that we need to go back to the first major of the year – the season-opener at Augusta. For three rounds McIlroy played quite astonishing golf. So good was he that he took a four-shot lead into the final round. But the nerves were visible as early as the 1st green, and, as the lead gradually evaporated, we were left to witness a young man collapse horribly. The snap-hook off the tee at 10, a four-putt on 12, and McIlroy’s dreams of wearing the green jacket were gone. Naturally the post-mortem elicited a media frenzy – what long-term damage had been done? All of the so-called ‘experts’ questioned whether he actually had the game and the mental strength to recover and compete at the very highest level. In the days following, the only person who seemed unfazed by it all was Rory. His manager Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler travelled to Rory’s home in Holywood to ask his player, ‘Are you OK?’. Rory’s reply sowed the seeds for his epic US Open triumph: ‘I’m fine. I can’t really see what all the fuss is about. I lost a golf tournament. Nobody died. There are disasters in the world but this wasn’t one of them.’

In that moment Rory sent such a powerful message to his young golfing brain. The power of PERSPECTIVE.

While so many others around him were talking about a catastrophe and a disaster the player himself chose to frame it differently. He chose to put the events in a place in his mind that were labelled with huge disappointment but NOT as a catastrophe.

The point to be aware of here is that, unfortunately, our brain – and specifically our unconscious implicit mind – tends to take things literally. So if we label something with words such as ‘disaster’ and ‘catastrophe’ then that part of our brain goes to work without logic and it seeks to protect us from those situations in the future. One of the ways it can do that is to make sure that we don’t put ourselves in a similar situation again. Much in the same way that we may have been unfortunate as a child to say something in front of a class that everybody laughed at, causing such acute embarrassment that the brain goes to work by telling us: ‘don’t speak in public again’. Then, 20 years on we have an adult with a severe public speaking phobia that doesn’t seem to make any sense at all to our logical mind.

In exactly the same way we have to be very careful in the way we label our experiences on a golf course. When something is billed as being ‘life or death’ then is it any wonder that some careers never recover?

Rory McIlroy has proved himself to be made of entirely different stuff – with that sense of perspective he was able to move on and his brain is not wired to dread or fear playing in majors and, more importantly, getting in to contention. At Congressional he simply got back to doing what he loves to do above anything else – i.e. playing golf. To Rory McIlroy the game is a game. He has not fallen into the trap of ‘believing’ what the media try to get us to buy into.

To Royal St George’s and a quite fantastic Open Championship – and one of the game’s most popular of winners. I have been fortunate enough to have known and worked with Darren on and off for around 10 years. In that time I have watched the best players in the world and I would say, without hesitation, that Darren is the most talented and impressive ball striker I have ever seen. The sound of the ball off the clubface, the pureness of the strike, the flight and the control he has is something to behold. He often used to joke that I should pay to watch him practice – and he had a point!

One of the games we used to play was called the ‘9 shot drill’, the challenge being to hit a comprehensive selection of shots with one club – i.e. Draw, Fade, Straight, High, Medium and Low – 9 shots in all to demonstrate spin control. To watch Darren do this with a 4- or 5-iron is like watching Picasso paint, the subtle but pure changes in ball flight demonstrating a masterful display of his skill.

On the flip side of the coin, this great natural talent could sometimes be the biggest obstacle to him going out and hitting those shots on the course. Darren will himself admit to being such a perfectionist on the range that if the ball didn’t behave in exactly the way he wanted it to on the golf course he was rarely one bad shot away from explosion and then implosion. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever known any other player get so frustrated and so down on himself as Darren did because he KNEW what he was capable of.

One of the hardest lessons in golf is that the game does not lend itself to perfectionism. Some things do – like accountancy and building suspension bridges – but golf does not. It is an imperfect science. As Dr Bob Rotella, the mind coach who has worked extensively with Darren over the years – and who was with him at St George’s – said in the title of one of his books Golf is NOT a Game of Perfect.

What happens away from the golf course is bound to affect our performance on it and Darren Clarke knows more about this than most. Since the loss of his wife Heather to cancer in 2006, Darren has had to rebuild his life, foremost as a father to his two boys, Conor and Tyrone, and latterly as a golfer.

How could that not have taken its toll on his mentality?

The years since have been far from straightforward but there is no doubt they have shaped the Darren Clarke we saw smiling his way around St George’s, enjoying the challenge of the game, pitting his skill against an absolute brute of an opponent that felled most of the rest of the field. What we saw was a Darren Clarke with a sense of perspective. This was a GAME to be played. An important game yes, but in the end a game nonetheless. Whatever the course could throw at him it couldn’t be worse than what life had thrown at him. Maybe it shouldn’t take these life events to give us this sense of perspective but often for us all it does. We attach too much importance to a lot of little things and not enough importance to others – the things in life that really do matter.

Looking from the outside in, I think we can all appreciate the way in which the power of perspective links these famous victories in two completely different ways. As ever, it reminds us all that where the golf ball goes on the course is down to much more than swing technique. As noted US coach Mike Hebron has pointed out ‘you cannot see what makes a golf swing happen’. You cannot video internal emotions and a player’s state of mind. The swing that we put on the ball is an expression of far more than just simple positions. The internal WILL have an effect on the EXTERNAL.

So how can YOU take the lessons from these two great triumphs and apply a positive mindset to your game that will help you get what you want from golf. How does the power of perspective apply to you personally? Again another noted coach Fred Shoemaker has always said that the OBJECT of the game of golf is to score as low as possible however the PURPOSE of golf is for you and you alone to decide.

Why do I play golf is a VERY simple but important question that you should perhaps ask yourself.

Very often when I ask golfers that question they say things like ‘I love to be outdoors’, ‘I enjoy the company of others’, or ‘I enjoy the competition and testing myself’. Whatever your reason for playing the game you need to be clear in your own mind before you play and always make a commitment to stick with that as you go around the course.

Often, once we get out on the course we become fixated with the score and lose that connection with ‘why’ we play the game. In other words, perspective goes out of the window and the experience of playing golf, for many of us, can border on misery. What the majority of us ‘club players’ have to remember is that we will hit a LOT of bad shots. That isn’t being negative it is simply a statement of fact – but it should NOT stop you being committed to YOUR purpose in playing the game if you stay aware of that purpose.

I think that questions are your most important tools in getting the right sense of perspective about the game and setting up a mindset that ALLOWS you to become the best player that you can be whilst deriving as much pleasure as possible. So here would be my 3 Key Questions that all of us should ask ourselves before we play the next time we have a game. These questions give your brain a direction and a perspective to go in that I feel sure you will enjoy

3 Key Questions of Perspective

What can I enjoy today?

What am I committed to? What do I need to focus on today?

Take time to ask yourself these questions before you play. Do this for a number of rounds and just begin to notice what that does to both the quality of your game and the quality of your experience.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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