PGA TOUR golfers constantly try to stay mentally composed

Dublin, OH — A week before Justin Rose won the 2011 BMW Championship in Chicago he played with several friends at a golf course with some noticeable differences, placing him in a more vulnerable position inside the ropes than he is normally accustomed to.

On this course, there were no yardage markers and his usual caddie, Mark “Fooch” Fulcher, whom has been with Rose for just over 10 years, was nowhere to be found.

Instead Rose had to use a local caddie and the knowledge gained that day changed the way he mentally handles himself inside the ropes.

“The local caddie just gave me one number to the pin and I had to trust it,” Rose said. “There was no reference anywhere on the golf course to question it. So I heard 137 and I went with 137 and played really good that day. It made me think about how I’ve been doing it. On TOUR, that 137 might have been, you got 120 to the front, 17 on, 137, that’s six behind it to the back edge, there’s 143 to the back, five over the ridge, 132, and I’m thinking, ‘whoa’. So I started to play with one number and we started to adjust that number based on wind and heat and temperature.”

The mental mindset of a golfer is not something often thought about, but what is between the ears that can make all the difference.

Jason Dufner, who won last year’s Memorial Tournament, understands emotion is part of the game but true to his personality tries to control things and remain as calm as possible.

“I think you would say that I internalize it pretty well and then externalize it when I’m way from people probably on my own time,” Dufner said. “I think playing the game of golf can be extremely frustrating for everybody. I think if you talk to any of the pros and best in the world, there’s been times where there’s been a lot of frustration, doubt and anger, so it’s a natural emotion.”

Dufner knows that with each golfer everything internal and sometimes external is different with each individual but golf itself is a very trying sport because you lose way more often than you win.

“I think that some guys deal with it better, some guys don’t deal with it as well,” said Dufner. “For me it is more internal, which maybe isn’t always the best because you beat yourself up a little internally. Golfers are extremely resilient to be able to move forward and past things. A lot of things don’t linger very long with me, as far as playing bad or having disappointment. Unfortunately with the game of golf, part of it is disappointment and anger. We’re not winning very often out here.”

Caddies play important role in keeping golfers on track

When Michael Collins puts on the caddie bib at the start of a week, he knows what his top priority is when it comes to communicating with his golfer.

“What are the two thoughts we are going with for the day and then we reinforce those throughout the day,” he said. “On the golf course, we make sure there are no more than two things we are keying on. It’s making sure all that noise goes away by Thursday on the tee. As a caddie you have to filter all of that stuff out and make sure we stay on point while doing it. That is a big part of a caddie’s job that most people don’t see and never hear.”

Collins served as a PGA TOUR caddie before becoming a senior golf analyst for ESPN and understands that as a caddie, you do not want to overwhelm your player which is why he settled on providing two thoughts, because otherwise, he views it as too much.

“There is so much else going on,” said Collins. “If I told you ‘nice and slow at the top’ and if I said ‘nice and slow at the top, good smooth transition and hold your finish’, well during the golf swing that is way too much. If I tell you to finish your backswing, I know that is a great thought that will put you in a great place and from there you’ve got it, you’re good. By saying one key thing to you it puts you in a good place mentally.”

It is Collins’s belief that a caddie should be part of what a golfer is doing, even if there is a disagreement with outside information because it ultimately helps with the flow of said information.

“There were times where I caddie for a guy and he brought someone in to help with their short game,” Collins said. “I did not agree one bit with what the guy was saying when they first worked together. I expressed that to my player and said ‘I’ll play that dude right now for $50 a shot right here.’ I told the player that was not correct because under pressure you can’t do what this person was saying on the 16th hole on a Sunday down one shot. When a player brings in a coach or talks to somebody, they want information to help make them better. Part of being a team in that is that player is the information gatherer, the caddie is the filter of that information.”

While the term caddie is given to an individual who carries a player’s bag, Collins believes that it is similar to psychology where a player is the thoroughbred and yes sometimes that means you have to metaphorically whip your player as Collins recalled with one of his golfers.

“I took my belt off one time and chased a player around the green,” said Collins. “We found out later he had a sugar imbalance but at the time I didn’t know why this guy was flipping out on a Thursday. At one point he was getting angry at me. Then he chipped in on this one hole for a birdie and then he turned and waved to the crowd. I snapped, I had enough. After he turned to the crowd, he saw me and then he laughed but at the same time I was thinking ‘I am going to spank you in front of everybody.’ We laugh about it now, but at the time it was holy cow, that was crazy. Part of being a good caddie is being what you need to be for that guy in that moment. That is what I love about caddying so much. Sometimes you are just a friend and sometimes the best thing you can do is not say a word to them.”

Additional schools of thought

While Collins stuck with a two-thought process with his players, everyone is different with how much information and swing thoughts can be processed at once.

Rose for example, is able to handle more swing thoughts because of the new approach he has equipped himself with.

“I think that the last few years I’ve tried to simplify it as best I can, which I think helps with commitment, really,” said Rose. “You start hearing too many numbers, it can get you way in between clubs too easily. Swing thought wise, I feel like I can have four or five swing thoughts, as long as they are embodied into a feel. If I verbalized it to you it would sound like four or five swing thoughts, but when I actually feel it, it’s one feel.”

It is clear Rose is able to stay on message and process information but for others this may involve a change in caddies.

Jack Nicklaus provided a more general viewpoint of the mental game expressing that he welcomed thoughts both positive and negative because it ultimately provided a clear picture.

“I just went ahead and whatever thoughts I had and whatever thoughts I wanted to use, I didn’t mind negative thoughts,” he said. “To me, if you’re standing on the 12th tee at Muirfield Village and you’re not worried about the water, you’re going to play a positive thought and you’re just going to hit it in there, I don’t think you’re very smart. You got to know that there’s problems out there. It’s the same as the 12th at Augusta, you got to know that there’s problems out there. I never knew where I might hit it, so I wanted to make sure, if I knew where it was going to go someplace bad, I wanted to make sure I had that awareness there. So I never played golf that way. I don’t think any of these guys tune out anything, because if they tune it out, pretty soon it’s going to get tuned in on them.”

In today’s age, information is endless but Collins knows that does not get the ball in the hole. A green-reading book for example can show you how a putt breaks but it does not tell you how far past the hole you are aiming or provide the feel of a putt.

“As great as information is, it doesn’t mean anything when it comes to the face of a club hitting a ball,” said Collins. “Nothing.”

Information can be processed by golfers in a variety of ways with a caddie helping along the way but another product of this information age and amenities received by both, there is no excuse for a lack of preparation.

“I do like knowing everything, but I think there’s a time where you need to boil it down and simplify things to go play,” Rose said. “I think that’s what I did really well last week. I didn’t get caught up in taking any videos of my swing, I didn’t get caught up in any technical thoughts, really. Being prepared with knowledge and with the science of the game is important, but you need to then take that to win tournaments and to play well, you never play your best golf when you’re too conscious, you play it more when it’s a subconscious and you’re feeling it rather than thinking it.”

That is why caddies still walk the course on a Monday. A golfer still needs to be aware of rough positions they encountered in the past, if the grass is cut differently or even if a carry number from a sprinkler head is different from prior years.

“Being out there and having your homework done is important,” Collins said. “You don’t want to be in a position where a player asks what the play is and you feel unprepared because that is the worst feeling, there is nothing worse than giving your player an answer that you are not 100% confident in. There is no excuse to not be prepared especially today with the way we travel. It is beautiful and horrible at the same time.”

Author: Zac Weiss