How to Gain Confidence
The 30th Secret
Golf is a doubly difficult game because you must conquer both physical and psychological problems. One of the
latter is how to gain confidence. Confidence is not something that can be created out of thin air. No amount of
confidence will get a ball into the hole if it is improperly stroked. A scared golfer with a good stroke will not
play as well as he can, but he will still defeat the confident golfer who has nothing else to back him up.
Psychology cannot overcome physics.
Feelings of confidence are deceptive. For instance, when I was a youngster with only three clubs, I putted with a
two iron. I still have great confidence in my ability to putt this way, but I can putt much better with a putter in
which I have less emotional confidence but more intellectual confidence. One of the reasons why many golfers don't
improve is that they have false confidence in wrong methods. This has been recently verified by experiments
reported in Science News Letter of December 12, 1959.
"People Under Stress Do What They Learned First. "Under stress, we may revert to earlier learned ways of doing
things, momentarily forgetting some of our most recent lessons".
This is the implication of research by psychologists Dr. Richard Barthol of the University of California, Los
Angeles, and Miss Nani D. Ku of Pennsylvania State University."
True confidence is not a permanent possession. It will deteriorate in the presence of continued failure. The best
method for the development of confidence is to over-learn.
Over-learning leads to successful play. Successful play leads to confidence. Confidence leads to more successful
play. Paul Runyan told Jack Murphy, former president of the Southeastern P. G. A., that when he improved his short
game so that he felt he could get down in two, his iron and wood shots began going "straight as a string." He was
no longer plagued by the fear of missing the green on second shots, and the removal of this fear eliminated the
psychological flaws in his long game.
A feeling of confidence is beneficial because confidence and fear do not exist simultaneously, and fear is the
great destroyer of shots. Fear is destructive because it tends to activate muscles which should not be used. Fear
also tends to prevent move¬ments of other muscles which should be used. This results in shots pulled off line,
shots that are hit "fat" and shots that are topped. Fear makes one stupid. Fear will cause you to ignore the
computations you have made and, at the last instant, you will decide to "hit the ball a little harder." Fear will
cause you to draw back from the ball as you hit it—like the pulled punch in boxing—and the shot will fall short. In
short, fear is generally disastrous. The cocky, unafraid player has the advantage, unpalatable as this idea is to
most of us. Sometimes the "cockiness" is concealed, as it should be, but it is nevertheless effective. This
cockiness is, more than likely, the difference between other¬wise equal players and accounts in large part for
those golfers who are better than their equals when there is pressure.
Cockiness is better than fear but it has weaknesses of its own. In the Southeastern P. G. A., played at Augusta in
1959, misplaced confidence turned a sure birdie four into a bogey six. An excellent professional three-putted from
a distance of about three inches! The pin was in the hole. He rapped the putt firmly. It struck the pin and bounced
back to the same position. Rapping the ball smartly again, he announced, "That can't happen again." But it did. The
moral is that absolute confidence is no guarantee of success. To be cocky without cause is better than to be
fearful without cause, but both attitudes are faulty, since they are unrealistic and do not conform to the true
facts. The best attitude in the long run is to be as coldblooded a calculator as possible with no self-delusions.
The best antidotes for fear in golf are first to over-learn, and then to do what you fear until you become
accustomed to it.