‘CONFIDENCE IS A GARBAGE TERM IN THAT IT INDUCES ILLUSIONS OF COMPETENCE.’
When it came time to make sense of what happened, Horschel’s strategy was to dismiss it as mostly rotten luck. He knew he played well, had put himself in contention, and says the sidehill lie was tricky enough that he caught more turf than he anticipated. It happens in golf, and he didn’t see the point in dwelling. That he won twice in the next two weeks suggests he was right. “Just a really bad swing at the wrong time,” Horschel says.
Fast-forward to November 2016, though, and Horschel committed another tournament-ending blunder when he missed a two-foot putt to remain in a playoff in the RSM Classic. This time there was no redemptive follow-up, but here, too, Horschel says he profited from the experience. Revisiting the sequence, he recognised he had rushed through his routine, and that a weak left hand on the putter kept the clubface open at impact. It was a crucial mistake, but at least he understood why.
“It’s a tough way to learn something, but I learned it,” he said days later.
Horschel’s two high-profile tournament losses represent distinct case studies of how people handle losing effectively – one where they graze lightly over their worst moments, another in which they look more carefully. More than most golfers, Horschel has embraced how to benefit from losing. I wrote a book about this concept, Win At Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead To Our Greatest Gains, which explores the various ways losing and failure are often the most fertile opportunities for growth. In everything from sports to business to politics, my argument is that within our biggest mistakes are the lessons for how to be better.
On an abstract level, it’s a principle most can embrace, but where golf presents a unique counter is when considering our often-fragile psyches.The last thing any of us wants standing over the ball is a catalogue of our worst swings swirling in our heads.
Dr Bob Rotella argues that rather than contemplate all the ways a golf shot can go wrong, we need to channel our energy to what we want to see happen. “No one wins if they don’t believe it,” says Rotella, whose book, Golf Is A Game Of Confidence, so I can create a positive.”
What Nicklaus describes is what Dr Fran Pirozzolo, a sport psychologist and mental-skills coach, calls “healthy self-doubt,” in which we’re aware of our limitations and can construct a game plan to counter them. In the same way Billy Horschel learned the hard way what happens when he rushes his putting routine, there is value in knowing what precisely holds us back.
“Confidence is a garbage term in that it induces illusions of competence,” Pirozzolo says. “What you really need is a passion to work hard to get the best answers about why things happen the way they do.”
Even at the game’s highest rung, this is a tough place to go. Of 200 players or so on the PGA Tour, Horschel estimates maybe only 30 are willing to spend time truly digging into the deficiencies that cost them. “Everyone else is scared to look in the mirror,” he says. “They shield themselves from it. That’s what makes guys like Rory and Spieth so great.They never shy away from their mistakes.”
Whether you’re chunking a 6-iron with $1 million on the line or blowing a lead in a club betterball match, golf’s relationship with failure is complicated.There’s the belief we needn’t breathe life into our mistakes for fear they will fester. On the other hand, it might be better to tackle problems surgically and strategically. When PGA