Graeme McDowell Keeps Calm on the Golf Course

Mj 618_348_graeme mcdowell on keeping your head in the game
Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Golf, perhaps more than any other sport, is a head game. Simplicity – the little white ball goes in the hole – obscures tremendous complexity. Most of the game occurs between swings, as golfers compute distance, evaluate conditions, plan shots, and ignore previous mistakes. In the background, doubts fester and experience argues with instinct. For tour golfer Graeme McDowell, it’s not about muting this internal debate. It’s about moderating it.

McDowell insists negativity is normal. “Accepting the fact that it’s human instinct and actually having an internal conversation” is McDowell way of playing through the doubts that plague him on the course. “It’s not like I’m crazy or anything. I’m just accepting the fact that negativity is okay.”

To retain focus on important strokes, McDowell follows the advice of U.K.-based sports psychologist Karl Morris, who taught the PGA star that, paradoxically, questions were the answer to self-doubt. “You have to ask yourself the right questions,” McDowell says. He focuses on three specific queries: “What am I trying to do? Where am I trying to hit this ball? How am I going to get it there?” The key, he adds, it to avoid ever wondering “what can go wrong?”

McDowell’s thinking goes like this: Positive questions lead to positive answers. He’s not looking for a solution to long term problems. Instead, he’s focused narrowly on the task at hand. He says this is the key for golfers tortured by their psyches. “Ask yourself good questions,” he says. “Your mind will respond with the right answers.”

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