Life’s key questions: To think or not, and whether Sergio can win again


Golf is not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.

Sure, it’s a cliché, but it’s one of my favourite golfisms because it beautifully exemplifies how golfers lose perspective.

I was thinking about it while watching the Honda Classic on Sunday and recalling an email exchange earlier in the week. I like Adam Scott, but I was rooting for Sergio Garcia, hoping he could somehow close the deal, which has become a chronic issue for the Spaniard. (Scott has struggled closing too, but Garcia is the poster boy.)

A lot of golfers—weekend warriors, elite amateurs and tour players alike—can relate to Garcia; when it comes to crunch time, they habitually fail.

Wins are difficult to come by in golf, whether literally winning the tournament or figuratively winning, such as finding the sweet spot regularly, finally making some putts or achieving some kind of personal breakthrough.

Most golfers are perennially seeking for something that is going to give them a win. I don’t know if Garcia is searching for better mechanics, but that’s where the majority of golfers look.

We think a lot about what we’re doing. However, the more we think, generally the worse it usually gets.

Richard Zokol knows. The native of British Columbia played on the PGA Tour for about 20 years, and constantly battled his “hyperactive mind.” (This week I’ll write more about Zokol who is a guest on our latest Swing Thoughts podcast.)

Zokol can relate to Garcia. He let a number of wins slip away. He led going into the final round of the 1987 Canadian Open, but shot 75 and Curtis Strange won.

But Zokol went on to win twice on the PGA Tour in 1992. He didn’t win again but he never lost his game, which happens to many golfers—amateur and professional—who try to think their way to success, such as Ian Baker Finch, David Duval and quite possibly Mike Weir.

Zokol didn’t develop the yips, which are like uncontrollable twitches and spasms that make the game almost intolerable. Suffers included Johnny Miller, Ben Hogan and Bernhard Langer.

I was talking with Zokol on the phone recently when we talked about golfers trying to think their way through things; in other words, using linear thought (based in the left brain) rather than spatial thought (right brain).

You use linear thought to add numbers, make decisions, and analyze a situation. Spatial thought allows you to throw a ball, walk up stairs, drive a car; in other words, move through space, which is the object of golf—to send a ball to a target.

In an email, I asked Zokol to elaborate on the connection between the yips and linear thought. Lest you think his response is exaggerated—i.e. golf is a matter-of-life-or-death—consider that the author played golf to put food on the table.

“The yips happen when linear thought (a conditioned response) grows to a point of hyperactivity. Imbalance occurs between the two types of thought because the golfer pours more effort into logical thinking to improve.  What they don’t know is this thought is the cause of the problem.

“Over time this grows like cancer. The conditioned response becomes a form of PTSD.  Panic sets in because your intuition knows it’s not going to work and you’re about to experience more trauma with the shot at hand. Linear thought is the thought process that stimulates and leads to trauma if it isn’t counterbalanced with spatial thought.”

So… in essence, the yips are a mental freak-out; your unconscious knows all this gobbledygook information (keep the head still, maintain a firm left wrist…) isn’t going to cure the problem. It IS the problem.

I hope to heck that Sergio doesn’t come anything close to the yips, and that he can win again soon on the PGA Tour. And I hope that you can avoid your own mental meltdown from over-thinking this game.

Work on the range, sure, but on the course, play golf the way you’d throw a ball to a friend. And keep in mind that what you shoot isn’t that important anyway.






About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!