Friday, April 22, 2011

Thoughts on Anger Control...

Throughout my experience in golf I have had some anger management issues. Nothing too severe. Probably less than what Tiger goes thru these days. The past year or so I’ve thought about better ways to control my anger on the course and why I tend to get angry and why others tend to have an explosive temper.

For starters, I think many golfers tend to believe that keeping a ‘calm head’ will equate to good golf and that losing your temper will equate to bad golf. I actually do NOT find that to be very accurate. I remember playing in a club championship match play back home in NY where I went from down 3 with 5 holes to play to winning the match 2 up and going -5 on those last 5 holes (going eagle, almost eagle, 2-putt birdie, almost birdie for a par, and birdie). And that didn’t happen until I got ticked off on a 3-putt on the 13th hole.

Conversely, I have never found that ‘if I keep my temper down, I’ll start playing well.’ It just does not work that way.

One of the things that really struck a chord with me was the documentary ‘The Street Stops Here.’ This is about the #1 high school basketball program in the country, St. Anthony’s and their coach Bob Hurley, Sr.

Hurley, who has been coaching the team since 1972, has only had 2 players that didn’t make it to college.

One of the things I noticed about Hurley in the movie was how adamant he is about his players having a ‘poker face.’ And he would routinely sit players on the bench, kick them out of practice and suspend them from the game if they didn’t obey his commands about having the ‘poker face.’ IMO, where Hurley is so brilliant and why he gets thru to these kids is that the reward for following his instruction is obviously there, a good scholarship to play basketball and perhaps get on the road of making the NBA and generally having a good life. But the punishment for not following his command is he will bench or suspend the player and go on to win without him because he’s that great of a coach. In fact, they discuss one story where Hurley benched two of his star players against Kobe Bryant’s high school team and the replacements stepped up and helped them to a 14 point victory.

Hurley is a former probation officer in Jersey City, New Jersey…one of the more violent places in the New York City metropolitan area. I think he focuses on the ‘poker face’ in large part because of his experience with inner city kids and people on probation, when things get tough they tend to pout and complain which causes them to make poor, impulsive decisions. Thus, he does whatever he can to eliminate that from happening.

I think ‘keeping a poker face’ is good for golf as well for the same reasons. It’s easy to make a double bogey on the first hole and then get angry and think that now you have to go full bore to make birdies and eagles in order to ‘go low.’ Yes, making double bogeys and going low are not common. But, I always remind myself that the lowest score I ever shot was 64 (shot it twice) and the first time I shot that it came with a 4-putt double bogey. Coincidentally, it was on the same 13th hole that I 3-putted on that set me off to going ballistic in the match play in the club championship.

The point here is that if you have a bad hole and want to lose your temper, most of the time it’s going to work against you. Keep your poker face and focus on the next shot and maybe you can get the round back.

Perhaps the main reason why we are told not to lose our temper is that we don’t want to break a golf club. My parents place high value on not ‘wasting money.’ So even if I could afford to get a club re-shafted, even if I won the Powerball, they would still not like the fact that I ‘wasted’ money having to get it re-shafted.

Still though, that never really prevented me from losing my anger because it just did not seem that important to me. Instead, releasing that bent up frustration felt like having a monkey off my back.

But, that doesn’t mean that was the best thing for me either.

Instead, a couple of months ago I said to myself something that most people never want to hear.

I told myself:




And therefore


For whatever reason, that made more sense to me and helped me better control my anger.

Still, I believe there are a couple of more hurdles to overcome.

What I find with myself and many other golfers is that anger is often due to worrying about what other people will think when you shoot a bad score or hit a bad shot. I think that is something the golfer, one way or another, has to overcome. I really don’t have any advice how to get thru that, but I think realizing that helps cause your anger is a step in the right direction. In Fred Couples’ case, he obviously doesn’t care what people think if he hits a bad shot.

The other hurdle for me is when I find that I am uncertain as to why I am hitting the ball poorly or playing poorly. It’s very difficult to practice almost every day and then struggle and not understand why I am struggling. That builds up frustration which turns into anger.

However, with learning from so many instructors since 2008 and now working with my current instructor, George Hunt (, there is very little mystery to the game of golf anymore. I will say that I dislike it when I hear somebody say to the effect ‘you need to learn the swing because you have an analytical brain.’ While I like to be analytical, I do not find that understanding and researching the swing to be all that hard. In a basic form, it’s essentially getting me to understand where I am, where my final destination is, how to get there and troubleshoot the problems along the way. Like I said, I like being analytical. But, I don’t consider this analytical at all. It would be like calling somebody who wants directions to a new town and wants a reference point along the way to be ‘analytical.’ I think it’s the negative connotation that is most damning and ridiculous to me.

But when I understand the game, be it the swing, putting, chipping, green reading, etc, it’s easier to understand what went wrong and how to correct it immediately. That takes all that energy towards getting frustrated and angry and instead places it towards making the correct adjustments. However, if I don’t understand, after awhile the feeling of helplessness sets in which turns into frustration which eventually leads to anger.

In part, I think that is why Tiger has anger issues on the golf course. I think years of having little idea as to why he couldn’t hit the driver well started to frustrate him. And instead of putting the effort into making the correct adjustment, he instead was left with getting angry as his only way to release that negative energy. Now with Sean Foley, I think Tiger will progress beyond that in due time. If not, he could sure use Bob Hurley, Sr. in his life.



laura w. said...

Very Good

Anonymous said...

The best reason to avoid golf course anger is that angry golfers look like (and generally are) spoiled assholes. If you are a spoiled asshole, keep a poker face and fewer people are likely to know.

Message to Tiger: nobody other than you cares about your swing problems. If you want to hit straighter drives, stop swinging as hard as you possibly can. The golfer whose swing was univerally considered the best of all time, and who remains unapproachable in that regard, was Sam Snead. He never used more than 85% of his potential power.

Anonymous said...

Great points Rich.

Anonymous said...

Anger is an inevitable emotion to anyone, just like those in the sports industry. It is just important to control this so that further destruction can be avoided. There are many outlets that this emotion can be displaced. However, too much drinking is not an option as this may lead to DUI evaluation. It is more advisable to seek professional attention regarding this matter.