Golf Psychology Lessons from the Open Championship at Turnberry – Part 1


So what golf psychology lessons can we learn from this year’s Open Championship at Turnberry? I’m sure that many of you watching the last day unfold on the course shared my excitement at the ever changing scoreboard, the phenomenal shot making from all the players and the breathtaking and emotional finish to the 72 holes. Let’s not spoil things by thinking about the play-off!

We also saw what makes golf in general and links golf in particular so special. I’m talking here about the basic unfairness of the game – the “rub of the green.” As an example, think about Tom Watson’s perfectly hit 8-iron into the 72nd hole that somehow managed to trickle off the back of the green and nestle against the edge of the rough. Contrast that with Stewart Cink’s frankly ropey shot into the same hole that against all odds managed to stop in the ideal spot and gave him the opportunity to hole a fantastic putt to set the winning target.

This is what links golf is all about and one of the reasons that Tom Watson has always been such a good links player is that he accepts both bad luck and good fortune with the same “happy go lucky” attitude. Just listen to what he said afterwards about that shot into the 72nd hole.

“You look back in perspective of the rounds and how they went, that 8-iron that I hit at 18 will always live with me,” Watson said. “I hit the shot that I wanted to hit, I really did. And I asked my friend, Andy North, exactly where that ball landed on the green. He said it landed one foot on to the surface, over the knob, one foot on the surface. So it had the whole length of the green to stop. That’s where I was trying to hit it. I was trying to hit it 164 yards, right there. It just didn’t stop.”

More tellingly, he summed it up by finishing

“I look at that shot, I hit it perfectly, and didn’t get the break.”

So that’s it for Tom, no complaints, no recriminations, just acceptance of the hand that the golfing gods dealt him. That’s why he’s such a good links player and why, despite his bad record at closing out wins, he’s such a great player.

Contrast his career record of 2 wins out of 11 play-offs against his 5 Open Championship wins, 3 other major championships, 31 other PGA Tour wins, 12 Champions Tour wins, 5 years as world number one from 1978 to 1982 and his almost winning the Open Championships just a few months before his 60th birthday and less than a year after a hip-replacement operation. That tells me that he can rise above adversity and simply get over any bad results.

So the next time you’re out on the course and the “rub of the green” goes against you or you simply hit a bad shot, think of Tom Watson and just accept it, consign it to the past where it can’t hurt you and get on with playing the next shot to the best of your ability.

I’ll be continuing this article tomorrow with more golf mind lessons from the Open.

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