Winning the U.S. Open in the Battlefield of the Mind—How Far We’ve Come
On June 8, 1986, Bob Rotella, a pioneer in the field of sport psychology, wrote an insightful New York Times article titled: “Winning the U.S. Open in the Battlefield of the Mind.” Although I was quite young when I read it, the article captivated me (the original clipping still remains in a scrapbook that resides in my attic). In fact, looking back, this very piece of writing helped spark my life-long interest in the human mind and spirit, not to mention the great game of golf.
Last week, for some reason, I decided to reread the article after all these years. And what I discovered is how dramatically the field of mental performance has evolved since 1986. So, to illustrate this evolution, I’ve listed below nine takeaways from the article, and then discussed where the field, in my opinion, is at today. What you’ll find is that back in 1986, mental performance had yet to be introduced to the unwavering principle that golfers (and all human beings) work strictly from inside to out. Those in the field had yet to consider that states of mind are innately variable, have nothing to do with environment, and regardless of a player’s state of mind and how life looks to him at that moment in time, he is 100 percent whole and capable.
Here, then, are those nine takeaways, compared to how I see things currently. Hopefully, you’ll find my stance on the evolution of mental performance helpful. If you don’t quite grasp where I’m pointing, feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to bring you up to speed.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must confront and overcome psychological and emotional battles.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that psychological, or inner, battles need not turn into emotional, or outer, battles. Players who grasp that the variable nature (or ebb and flow) of feelings is normal don’t waste energy trying to confront or overcome something that isn’t broken and they don’t control.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must develop psychological skills.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that he is innately resilient. The more a player works on the mental game, or tries to perfect in-born skills that cannot be improved upon, the more he shrouds his innate ability to self-correct. Every player owns a psychological immune system. Because the psychological immune system doesn’t need help to function, it’s always best to stay out of its way.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must overpower his fears.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that fear and faith come and go within him. And that is and always will be the human experience. As alluded to earlier, whether he’s feeling fear or faith, a player’s ability to excel doesn’t waiver. In fact, the only way to obstruct the flow from fear to faith is to try to overpower fear. That holds fear in place.
- To win the U.S Open, a player must control self-defeating emotions like anger.
Now: To win the U.S. Open a player must understand that a feeling, anger included, cannot be abnormal. Anger can only become self-defeating if a player looks outside for circumstantial causes and strategic cures in a quest to fix it.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must fight off the desire to complain and not allow the course conditions to get in his head.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that complaining is merely a coping strategy. And coping (managing one’s thinking or fighting one’s experience) is never in a player’s best interest. Besides, it’s not a matter of not allowing course conditions to get in a player’s head. It’s a matter of knowing that they can’t.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must think positively on every shot.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that the content of thought, positive or negative, has no bearing on his ability to hit a desired shot. Actually, trying to think positive requires a ton of personal thought and effort. This jams the ebb and flow of the mind—which clearly is not helpful.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must be unwilling to play a shot until the mind is where it must be.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that the mind doesn’t need to be anywhere. It will be where it will be, and, try as he might, a player cannot deliberately improve his mindset. Rather, he must hit shots regardless of mindset. If a player does not try to fix or cope, he is sure to bring out, and not shroud, his best.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player must have confidence in himself and his game.
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that while confidence, like all feelings, ebbs and flows, he’s good to go (fully capable) regardless. Chase confidence and a player’s sure to go on a mind-bending wild-goose chase with no end in sight.
- To win the U.S. Open, a player (in contention) must not become scared by the possibility that it might get away
Now: To win the U.S. Open, a player must understand that win or lose he’ll be perfectly fine. In truth, there’s nothing in life that can get away. Thankfully, there’s a greater plan a work; a plan that human beings, even great golfers, simply don’t control.
There’s the list. We’ve come a long way from a paradigm of doing, thinking, fixing, and controlling—to one of understanding what the human experience really is and that all feelings are normal.
In other words, to win the U.S. Open in the battlefield of the mind, what a player needs to know is that the inner battle need not be conquered at all.
Enjoy the tournament,