Attribution Theory, Fred Couples and Golf

couples
The 3 faces of gloveless Freddie ‘lucky’ Couples

Attribution Theory by Fritz Heider basically says that there are 4 factors that affect your behaviour; ability, effort , luck and the difficulty of the task.

At the start of a round golfers usually tend to be fairly jolly, optimistic and sensible. They congregate next to the first tee swinging cheerfully and joking with the group in front; “Now don’t be embarrassed about calling us through”.

Golfers tend to think that ability and effort are factors they have a fair amount of control over, whilst the difficulty of the task and luck are outside the control of the golfer. For instance if golfers practice they expect they will get better. If they have played regularly they expect to get better. If they are playing consistently well there is a belief they will continue to play well. This is all fairly sensible. However this can often be heightened in times of even the smallest increase in stress or tension.

For instance a golfer will drive well with his glove off a couple of times then he’ll never wear a glove again – ask Fred Couples. Suddenly Fred feels he has power over a factor outside his control – luck. We shall be returning to the concept of attribution theory and luck…. But first ……

One of the most interesting factors about golf and attribution theory concerns handicaps. A 16 handicapper playing with a 24 handicapper will often be amazed if the 24 handicapper out drives them, or hits a really good shot, “bandit.”, “24 ********* handicappers” they may be heard to mutter. In truth however there is only a few shots difference and it’s inevitable a higher handicapper will hit some better shots than a lower handicapper. Attribution theory will kick in however and all the effort the lower handicapper has put in to get their handicap down will feel wasted when the 24 handicapper birdies the trickiest par 5 to get 5 stableford points. Over the course of a round the high handicapper will make more mistakes and end up, usually, with a number of holes with no score. However, the 16 24 handicapper will forget this. This will affect their game as they spend more time worrying about their playing partner than their own game and consequently put less effort into their own game and fail. From experience you know this to be true.

When this happens they tend to not attribute this to themselves but look at their luck, “Trust me to get drawn to play with a 24 handicap 12 year old female bandit.”

Luck, fortune, fate, destiny and providence are very interesting aspects for golfers. In times of stress they can really kick in. Even in times of non-stress it kicks in. For example we use the same coloured tees, the same hat, socks, jumper, underwear, etc. If things are going badly it’s rarely the fault of poor technique, lack of concentration or over-optimistic shot selection. It’s habitually down to luck.

“Just my luck I haven’t got a shot in.” – translation: I shanked one behind a tree

“How come I always get a bad lie.” – “Because you keep hitting it in the rough.”

The difficulty of the task is affected very much by the mood. The difficulty of the task never changes. It is the same golf course for you and all the competitors. It’s the same as it was last week. OK the weather may change but again it’s the same for everyone. You can change, adapt your game, but this never changes – really. So, don’t spend any time worrying about it.

Let’s make it very simply. Of the 4 elements that affect your game only ability and effort are under your control. So go practice.

John Cook marks his golf ball only with US quarters (25 cent coins that feature different US States) that reflect pictures of states in which he has not only played, but played well.

Arnold Palmer’s wife kisses each of his golf balls before he uses them in a game.

Doug Sanders refuses to play golf with white tees as he considers them to be unlucky.

Paul Azinger always marks his golf ball with a US penny, which features the head of Abraham Lincoln. He also makes certain to turn the penny so Lincoln is looking at the hole. he thinks this brings him good luck!

Christina Kim doesn’t step on the edge where the fairway meets the green, as she considers this to bring bad luck to her game.

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