Beware the angry golfer. Why on-course tantrums aren’t always a bad thing!
Whenever I see players throwing clubs or cursing a bad shot, I always think back to when I was growing up and I was taught that losing your temper was the worst thing you could do. It’s easy to laugh at that advice now because no matter how hard I try, I’ve always struggled to remain on an even keel. I’ve snapped many clubs over the years and within seconds, I’ve always regretted my actions. It’s a stupid thing to do, but I’ve never believed in bottling up your emotions. The trick, of course, is knowing how to channel that red mist in a positive way. Recently, I’ve started working with Garret Kramer, who wrote The Path of No Resistance, and he’s taught me that thoughts are not powerful in themselves; they are only powerful if we try to wrestle them. That’s why I see nothing wrong with players losing their rag on the golf course, provided they don’t start beating themselves up for doing it in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I never condone nor enjoy seeing players snapping clubs as I think it sets a bad example for budding, younger golfers. But at the same time, I know I’d be a hypocrite if I told my son off every time he lost his rag after making a sloppy error or getting a bad bounce. I’m as guilty as anyone and I don’t think it’s possible to be 100% in control of your emotions. Stress does bad things to people and although duffing a chip might be a first-world problem, at the time it feels like it’s life ending.
The best bit of caddieing I ever received came just after I finished second in my defence of the Singapore Masters in 2006. I was playing in China at the TCL Classic and midway through the round, I was right on the cut mark. I remember hitting a bad shot and sounding off, saying things like: ‘What’s the point? Why do I even bother?’ In that moment, I expected more from myself and I was behaving like a child. My caddie Ian More turned to me and said: ‘Why don’t we just pick the ball up and go in if it’s that bad?’ Part of me wanted to throttle him, but the other part knew what he was trying to do and that pulled me back from a dark place. I went on to birdie four of my last five holes and ended up finishing fourth. It was a fantastic piece of caddieing because it stopped my emotions from spiralling out of control. That’s when I think caddies are at least 50% responsible for victories. The emotional support they can provide is often overlooked, especially when the pressure is on. A great example was Malcolm Mackenzie at the 2002 French Open. He was leading by one heading down the 72nd hole and needed to hit a 2-iron off an uphill lie to reach the green. Obviously, he was extremely nervous and his caddie Rod Wooler could sense that. It got to the stage where Malcolm convinced himself that he couldn’t make the shot and needed to lay up, and that’s when Rod stepped in and said: ‘What are you, a man or a mouse?’ He knew Malcolm wasn’t going to back down from that; he just needed someone to challenge him. Of course, he went and smacked it on the green and won the tournament. Those stories still do the rounds at after-dinner speeches, but they are great examples of caddies stepping out of the stereotype of just carrying the bag. A lot of people gave Steve Williams stick when he said he had won 13 Majors, but he definitely added to Tiger’s immense artillery. When I played with Tiger, Stevie was every bit as intimidating, if not more so. He was just big, mean-looking and all business. I think the aura that Tiger created owed a lot to Steve’s influence. But then sometimes it’s just the small, unsaid stuff which makes these guys extra special. Lee Westwood would admit that Billy Foster is the master at melting away any tension. Sometimes he’s the counsellor, sometimes he’s the joker, and sometimes he’s the guy to kick you up the backside. Being able to don the role of a caddie, friend and psychologist is what separates the good from the great. And I can promise you that not all caddies are equal. That’s why I’m so intrigued to see how Phil Mickelson fares without having Bones on his bag. They were like brothers and you only had to hear the conversations they had over club choice to know just how reliant Phil was on Bones’ input. They went so in depth and whether Bones wanted to or not, he knew Phil needed to discuss every option to get those creative juices flowing. The dynamic clearly worked, and yielded five Major championships. It’s going to be strange now seeing Bones walk the course as a commentator for Golf Channel, especially if Phil gets himself in a position to win another Major. But if he does manage to add to his tally, you can bet Bones will be first on the scene with a microphone in hand. And I’ll happily stand in line to watch that.
‘Although duffing a chip might be a first-world problem, at the time it feels like it’s life ending’