Plugged In The Hazard: Golf Is Mental

by Andrew Penner - Some nut job once quipped that golf is 90% mental. I totally disagree.


(Opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Inside Golf. They might. But not necessarily - ed.)

It’s likely this person was brainwashed by a famous golf shrink like Dr. Bob Rotella during the 90s, a time when it was considered quite cool to use your brain on the course. 

Now I’m not denying that some mental capacity is necessary in order to play good golf. People who are brain-dead typically struggle making pars

Image Caption : Golf Can Be Very Mentally Draining...So Learn To Go To Your Happy Place...Like This Guy

There needs to be some neurological activity in order to get the ball from A to B. But to say that 90% of the game is mental is ludicrous.

If that was true then really, really smart people would be kick-ass golfers. And that’s just not the case.

The most intelligent people I know stink at golf. Often, these cerebral types actually want nothing to do with golf. It’s like they know better. Hmmm.

My uncle Bob for example, God Bless him, has one of the highest I.Q's of anyone I know. He’s got a number of degrees, makes political scientists look stupid, and will beat anyone on the planet in a game of chess in three moves. 

However, on the golf course he’s a raging disaster. He plays cross-handed and has a follow through with a bizarre and painful looking up-jerk that makes Arnie’s whirling recoil look like poetry in motion.

After topping a drive he’s famous for responding, “Hey, throw that one back here, I want to count them all today.” I love the guy but he’s just way, way, way too smart to be good at golf.  

What I’ve come to realize is that it’s actually idiots and people who aren’t quite playing with a full deck who are usually the best golfers. If they do have a brain, they’ve learned to park it at the door and are all the better for it.

If the game was truly 90% mental they wouldn’t do this. Indeed, thinking - using your brain on more than a rudimentary level - is just plain harmful on the course. It’s been proven countless times. You’ve proved it yourself.

Interestingly, sometimes being drunk and stupid can really work in your favour. John Daly proved this in the 1990 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick when he proceeded to get blotto and beat the entire field.

photo credit:

Roy McAvoy Had Some 'Overthinking' Issues Of His Own In Tin Cup

No doubt you’ve got a few drunk imbeciles at your club who also prove this theory correct. These are the types you need to avoid playing against at all costs. And, funny enough, the higher the stakes, the drunker they get and the better they play.

Alcohol aside, you’ve got to admit that overusing your brain can be a serious impairment. Think of your career round. Did you have multiple swing thoughts going? Did you have any swing thoughts?

No. You didn’t. You were stoned on, wait for it, nothing. Your brain was blank, a black and ignorant hole in the cosmos. And that’s it. That’s the secret. The dumber you are to what’s going on around you the better.

Think about it, that’s why people choke. That’s why people get nervous and make bad swings. It’s because the brain is interfering. The brain is getting involved. Way too many neurons and electrons are firing for all the muscles and ligaments to work in unison. It’s like a computer system that’s overloaded and crashes.  

Interestingly, Adam Sandler and Kevin Costner in Happy Gilmore and Tin Cup, respectively, taught us far more about the correct mental approach than any professional shrink out there.

What did Happy – after suffering great anguish and turmoil at the hands of Bob Barker, the heckler who tormented him, and Shooter McGavin – do in order to become a champion? You know the answer. He had to go to his “happy” place.

And, if memory serves me correct, that place had nothing to do with golf. Rather, his brain leapt into a fairytale land of midgets on tricycles, beer, and women in lingerie. Rudimentary stuff. Trust Happy, it’s all that’s required.  

And, of course, Tin Cup went absolutely nowhere when he enlisted every single swing aid and swing thought known to man to get out of his funk. His brain was killing him.

When he admitted defeat, got wasted, and played golf like the stupid man that he was, he was brilliant, nearly flawless, a brainless ball-striking machine of the finest order.

So what shall we say to all of this then? What is the right course of action? Do we cast aside everything we know about “thinking” pure golf thoughts? Are the mental checklists we so adamantly cling to now obsolete?

In short, yes. Because, truth be told, golf is a game of skill. And, once you have some of that, your brain will only try and destroy you.

My advice? Destroy your brain first. You’ve got to learn how to remove it from the equation. If your brain is chronically hyperactive, it’s possible you may need some shock therapy or a lobotomy.

If that doesn’t work, forget about a swing jacket, you’ll need a straight jacket.