Bobby Jones famously said that golf was played on a five and a half inch course--the distance between your ears. He also said that it was easier to learn good judgement than it was to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon. And yet, it seems that many golfers continue to spend most of their time working on their swing instead of focussing on improving their mental game.
Bobby Jones was a child prodigy. He played in a US Amateur at age fourteen and was a golfing sensation. But despite his prodigious talent, Bobby had to learn to manage his game before he began winning Major Championships. Prodigious talent wasn't enough to beat the best golfers in the world.
Consider what Bobby wrote in his book, Golf is my Game:
"In my early years I think I must have been completely intolerant of anything less than absolute perfection in the playing of any shot... I habitually played every shot for its ultimate possibilities, regardless of risk. This lack of discretion must have been fairly obvious; for Bill Fownes, the resourceful Pittsburgh amateur, once said to me, 'Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play.'"
A player who goes for broke, hits at every pin, and tries to reach every par five in two blows, regardless of the risks, might win occasionally when he's on his game and the stars align for him. But sooner or later, the odds will catch up with him. He won't be a consistent winner. Consider what Bobby says is the ideal golfing temperament:
"J.H. Taylor, of the famous 'triumvirate' of Vardon, Taylor, and Braid, once described the ideal attitude of the golfer as one of 'courageous timidity', with the courage to bear adversity coupled with enough caution to cause him to be aware of a limit to his powers.
It took some doing, I'll admit, but it is a fact that I never did any real amount of winning until I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies."
So, there it is. Despite his prodigious talent, Bobby Jones had to learn to become courageously timid before he did any real amount of winning. He had to learn to use some caution on the golf course, not relying on winning by accomplishing a series of "brilliant sallies."
If he was so good, why was it necessary for young Bobby to exercise such restraint on the golf course? I'll cover that in my next article.