Forget Niccolo Machievelli, Sun Pin, Carl Von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu. If you really want to learn the art of war, battle and conflict join the Saturday morning ball school. This
‘friendly’ ball school is all smiles, jokes, banter and laughter. Yet deep down there’s a mass of psychological insight on display borne out of decades of disappointment, heartbreak and angst.
For instance there’s a psychological condition known as reactance that was developed by Kansas psychology professor, and non golfer, Jack Brehm. He looked at how people react to change. He concluded that most people refuse to be bullied into doing anything. There’s a psychological condition in humans that refuses to be told what to do. He explored this and called it psychological reactance. He found that if someone tries to restrict our choice we tend to react by trying to restore that balance.
He carried out an experiment where people who didn’t have a preference for 2 brands of cigarettes (A and B) were observed at a vending machine. One of the brands was deliberately sold out (Brand A) and the only brand available was Brand B. Logically, it should make no difference and people would, you would guess, choose Brand B. However, people were more likely to try to find another vending machine and buy Brand A. This was all because they felt they were being forced to do something.
Now I’m not sure if the members of the ball school have been versed in the musings of Jack Brehm and his psychological theories but they all seem to use his findings instinctively. Jack Brehm is one of the many psychologists whose work has been explored and translated into practical actions by the ball school members. It’ll be demonstrated as a look, a sigh, a silence. It’ll be a look behind you as you’re stepping up to a twenty foot putt and a sharp intake of breath and a helping word;
“Don’t take any notice of me but this putt’s more uphill than it looks. It’s really difficult to judge and well, if it were me I’d lag up.”
Thereby ensuring you hit it six feet past and miss the return putt.
Or the comment on the second tee as you practice your swing;
“I see you’ve changed your swing.”
You know this is an old trick but you’re still thinking about as you’re looking for your ball in the left rough.
Or you’re playing well on an unfamiliar course and approach the par 3 with a long iron. You notice your colleagues have all got drivers out. They’re not exactly telling you to hit a driver but there’s the assumption that you should. You recognise this is a ploy now so confidently hit your 3 iron into the pond.
Or you’re settling over a 6 foot putt. The innocent question,
“Are you putting for a 5 or 6?”
You lift your head, start counting and by the time you take your putt you’ve forgotten the line, the distance, everything and leave it a foot short.
Now these examples are fairly standard, innocent even… for the first dozen holes. For the last few holes though things change. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for the club championship or a pound coin – the tactics are the same. There are some people who play differently when it comes to money. There’s a different mentality that kicks in – not meanness but … some kind of primal instinct. There are a number of golfers that play differently whether they’ve a score card or a £5 note in their hand.
Perhaps the area that causes more grief, stress and psychological torture is the grey, dark, undefinable world of gimmes. Gimmes are those putts that are conceded by your opponent when it’s obvious you would hole them… well that’s one definition of gimmes. Another definition is that it’s a device for psychologically wounding and damaging your opponent. The best psychological demonic experts can break weaker players with just a few words.
It’s demonstrated at the ball school with the 4 balls playing in pairs with a pound for
the winning pair. For the first 12 holes its…
“Pick it up, it’s only 5 feet for goodness sake.”
“Oh don’t be daft of course you can have that one – you can’t miss that.”
Or they’ll (in your innocent mind) very generously knock your ball back to you when you’ve just missed a putt with, “bad luck but that’s a gimme.”
However as it gets to the end of the round, and the scores are tighter it suddenly
becomes quieter on the green. You walk up to a two feet putt expecting your opponent to give it to you when suddenly they’re looking at something else and talking to their partner giving their full, total concentration.
Have they conceded it or not? You decide you’d better putt it. You hole it a little nervously when you hear “Oh, you didn’t need to putt that for pity’s sake.”
On the next hole you concede their putt and approach your four foot putt half-hoping to hear your opponent – again silence. As you settle over the putt you realise you’ve only had one or two small putts all day. In fact you’ve hardly had any putts at all. You’ve no idea of the pace of the greens. No idea how well you’re putting and you’re starting to get nervous. You know if you miss you’ll still have to the return putt – no more gimmes from now on. So you think about leaving it just a little short… which you do…. twice.
Now there’s nothing illegal in this. It is part of the game, part of the fun and the sooner you learn these new rules the sooner you can start using them on your opponents.