MAG FEATURE: Take a deep breath

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If you’ve played plenty of golf, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’re playing at your local club or course and a playing partner hits a shot that’s below expectation. A raised voice, expletive, club-throw or a combination of all venting mechanisms follows. It’s that awkward moment when you realise how silly the guy looks for losing his temper over what is probably utterly insignificant in the scheme of the day let alone one’s life.

Put the shoe on the other foot. I’d hazard a guess that, if you’re reading this article, there’s an extremely good chance you’ve lost your cool on the course at some point. I certainly have. In my early teenage years, I snapped a five-wood across my shoulders after an errant tee shot. I’m not proud of that but it’s important to mention. I’m not immune to loss of temper either.

But do we all realise how stupid we appear when we get hot under the collar? A quick cost-benefit analysis shows just how irrational it is for weekend and casual golfers. Pros: slim-to-nil chance that venting frustration will kick your round back into gear. Cons: increased tension, heightened anxiety, extremely high likelihood of hampered performance, reduced enjoyment for yourself and playing partner(s) and possible lost respect from others.

But do we run a checklist like that in our head before we spit the dummy? Obviously not, because we’re not present in the moment when we do it.

For the last issue of Golf Victoria, I interviewed an extremely talented 14-year-old golfer named Karl Vilips.

“I do feel really bad about myself when I get mad because I know how much of an idiot I look like,”Karl said to me. “My coach and I just talk about handling myself on the course, not getting frustrated because that’s usually what ruins people’s rounds, when they get angry.”

How does a 14-year-old kid have it figured out and grown adults, who in most cases have nothing to worry about except the loss of a few stableford points, let the game get the better of them?

For most of us, golf is supposed to be gentle exercise and a fun escape from the rigours of working life. It’s also a game. Yet people in droves are taking their stress from the workplace on Friday afternoon straight to the first tee on Saturday morning.

Unless you’re trying to make it as a touring pro or are one, there’s really no excuse. But pros getting angry can still look ridiculous.

Take PGA Tour player Zac Blair. In May, during the second round of the Wells Fargo Championship, he whacked himself in the head with his putter, bent the shaft and continued putting with what had become a non-conforming club. The American was disqualified because it had been damaged outside the normal course of play. Blair alerted an official of his rule breach at the very next hole and later tweeted, “Going forward I’m going to do my best to not let my emotions get in the way out on the golf course.”

Blair’s mishap sounds kind of funny, but it’s not a great conversation-starter if you’re playing with him.

American Woody Austin famously did a similar thing at the PGA Tour’s Hilton Head event in 1997. Then there’s Sergio Garcia and John Daly, who are both exemplary examples of players whose loss of temperament has hindered performance. A YouTube search for ‘golfing tantrums’reveals part of a treasure trove of Garcia dummy spits: hurling a mid-iron into a lake and booting his own shoe down the tee. Then there’s his senseless attack on a Whistling Straits bunker at the 2010 PGA Championship. Garcia’s emotions had gotten so off-course that he took a break from the game shortly thereafter, even though it ruled him out of the 2010 Ryder Cup, which Europe won.

Australians have been front and centre to Daly’s torment. He threw his putter into a lake at the 2002 Australian PGA at Coolum and smashed a spectator’s camera against a tree at the 2008 Australian Open. Three years later, at the same event, Long John’s ‘grip it and rip it’strategy wasn’t going to plan. He pumped seven balls into the giant lake beside The Lakes’par-five 11th - conveniently close to the clubhouse - and shook hands with his playing partners and walked in.

Then there’s Bubba Watson, who, it’s worth noting, has certainly improved his temperament recently. But he’s had his moments.

At the 2008 Zurich Classic of New Orleans on the PGA Tour, Steve Elkington was walking while Bubba was preparing to hit an approach, so he backed off the shot and told Elkington to stop walking. Elkington said something back and Bubba told the Australian to, “Kiss my ***.”Imagine if you were the third member of the group and how that would have detracted from your enjoyment of the day.

Manners aside, the impact of these events on a player’s performance is surely negative. If Daly had a more even temperament (and gave up his diet of a dozen or so Diet Cokes and a few dozen cigarettes a day), he surely would have won more than a handful of times.

In caddy Steve Williams’book, Out of the Rough, he said of his old boss, Greg Norman, “His weakness, and it was a huge weakness, was not being able to get over a bad break. A bad break could last a hole, nine holes, a week, a month…. If he hadn’t possessed that particular trait or shortcoming, there was no telling what he could have done in the game.”

But with reference to Daly, Watson and Garcia, heated exchanges and tantrums are lapped up by the media and by us as consumers.

Daly has two majors to his name but he’s probably earned more attention because of his dummy spits.

It’s a safe bet that every major television bulletin in Australia aired vision of some of Daly’s aforementioned implosions at the expense of someone further up the leaderboard. But why do we like seeing pros lose the plot? Does it make us feel better about getting mad? It probably does, which is ridiculous.

Those guys are playing for a living. If they miss too many cuts, they don’t have a job at the end of the year. Anger from professionals, while not ideal behaviour, is somewhat understandable because golf is their livelihood and carries obvious pressures to perform in what is, at the highest level, one of the most cutthroat sports.

What’s ridiculous, when you think about it, is a club golfer getting angry about missing a three-foot putt. We’re supposed to miss three-footers sometimes because we’re not professional golfers.

Life is too short to let numbers on a scorecard dictate how good a day you’ve had.

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