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How to Handle Anger

The 31st Secret

What about temper? In the 1945 Dallas Open, played at the Dallas Country Club, one of the leaders hit a phenomenally long drive on number 3, a sharp dog-leg to the left, par 4. His ball carried to about the 245-yard marker and, from the tee, it apĀ¬peared that it was headed right for the green. The golfer strode up toward the center of the fairway, but did not see his ball until a spectator said it was in the rough to the right of the fairway. The ball had received an abnormally bad lateral kick from a hard depressed spot on the fairway. The pro was obviously disconcerted as he examined his next shot. The ball was under a mesquite tree; neither his swing nor the flight of the ball would be affected. It was an open aid simple shot with a wedge to the green about 85 yards away. But his second shot went into a trap. He still had a simple explosion to the cup. Now the ball barely came out. He wound up with a five. This bad hole started a series of bad holes and he very quickly was out of the running. It all started with anger.
First of all, those who wish to control anger must give up the feeling that they are "entitled" to become upset. Once a person feels that he is "entitled" to gripe at bad luck, the elements, a baying dog in the distance, or even his own incompetence, the battle is nine-tenths lost and the golfer must forever fight being a golfing emotional cripple. Griping is first "justifiable" for major items, then "justifiable" for lesser disturbances, and finally it becomes a senseless self-destructive habit. To avoid such a disintegration of the golfing personality, it is best to give up the idea that you are justified in any anger.
Second, if you make this decision, you must practice continuous self-control. Since the time of the great Sigmund Freud, it has become the almost universal belief that if we repress or suppress anything it is automatically bad. The more I practice psychology the more I believe this to be erroneous. In the ordinary pursuit of our daily affairs, we exercise considerable repression. We do not spontaneously embrace strange people in public places merely because we like their looks. We do not steal in a department store merely because we don't have enough money. We go to great lengths to train children not to wet the bed or to move their bowels in public. In fact, the whole process of making the transition from child to mature adult involves continuous repression. On a number of occasions when patients have had persistent depression from dwelling on unpleasant thoughts, or when manic patients became unusually excited by stimuli that should not have disturbed them, I have found that training the individual to suppress helped when nothing else would. No doubt the suppression of legitimate and realistic impulses can lead to trouble, but we must believe that, as a fundamental principle, suppression is neither good nor evil, but depends on the particular circumstances.
Use every opportunity to become upset as an opportunity to practice "not getting upset." It will take time, but this can be learned like any other game.
Third, for those who are not able to train their intelligence to govern their emotions, there is a way of channeling anger.
Direct the feeling into a resolution for practice. Punish yourself with remedial practice. The more times you become angry, then, the better your game will get. Every missed shot thus produces its own correction.
Anger that is misdirected can cause trouble, but anger in itself is not bad. The stimulus toward improvement would very well disappear if it were possible for a person to train himself not to react at all. As a matter of fact, there is some question as to whether a person could learn to play golf unless a bad shot was a source of discomfort. In studies of the learning process, it has been found that a response that is followed by unpleasantness will get weaker. If it were possible for us to train ourselves to become completely undisturbed by a bad shot, learning would not occur.
The best attitude to have toward the game, then, is to practice self-control so that useless anger is not permitted to develop, and useful anger is directed into a quiet but completely determined resolve to remove golfing flaws through remedial practice.
This throws light on a matter of common observation. People who play golf on a narrow course hit straighter shots than those on a wide open one. Shots which arouse no unpleasant feelings on a wide course are quite distasteful on a narrow one. The continuous "noxious stimulant" acts like an electronic device to stimulate constant correction. On an open course, this would be lacking.
The above explains, in part, the psychology behind the common belief that your golf will improve if you play with good golfers and become worse if you play with poorer. With high handicap golfers, your fair shots will look so good by comparison that you will be pleased and learning will not be stimulated. With better golfers, even your fair shots will not be good enough. This will be unpleasant, and can stimulate improvement.
The above implies that for the very good golfer to become better he must set up his own higher standards, and set them so high that there will be unpleasantness attached to the shots that even good golfers would consider good enough.