Fergus Bisset: Mind games

A disaster in the Alliance and a terrible result in the Accenture Matchplay test Fergus' mental resilience.

Bobby Jones once famously said that golf is mainly played on a five and a half inch course – the space between your ears. I would say 95% of my game is played in and against my brain.

He’s a steely golfing competitor (my brain): cunning and, at times, ruthless. He often lulls his opponent (me) into a sense of false security before striking when he least expects it. He has an impressive array of weapons at his disposal designed to incapacitate and humiliate his principal foe – last second memories of a missed two-footer or a power shank, suddenly recalling an unpaid bill at the top of a backswing and constant reminders of his adversary’s many and varied inadequacies. So far he’s undefeated in over 3,000 contests.

I’ve decided to play hardball with my brain and have begun an online psychology course – golfmindfactor.com. I’m going to rationalise my grey cells into submission. The site features renowned sports psychologist Dr Karl Morris, he’s helped pros including Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell. I’ve met him before and he speaks a great deal of sense.

I’m not going to go into the minute details of what the course focuses on – you can check that out for yourselves if you’d like to – but what I will say is that it delivers useful and level headed advise. As I’ve often found with psychology books, most of the guidance is common sense and while listening, or reading, you think, “Yes, yes, of course I do that.” But when you think a little deeper you realise, “Actually, no, I don’t really do that. But I certainly should.”

A key pointer I took is to do with separating yourself as a golfer from yourself as a person. Whether you shoot a 65 or an 85 you will leave the course and return to normal life as the same person – your friends and family will not think you any better as a human being for scoring a 65, nor will they think you any worse if you score an 85.

I’ve been telling myself that quite a lot this morning following yesterday’s debacle in the Alliance. I was going along quite nicely at Duff House Royal, battling a course I’d never played in windy conditions, to keep my score just over par – I was +2 through 16. I then stood on the 17th tee and hit the wildest tee shot I think I’ve ever hit. It started 60 yards right of the fairway then started slicing viciously. It landed in the middle of the River Deveron. I then hit another ball into the reeds on the riverbank before finally finding the fairway with my second provisional. I located provisional one in the reeds, in a fairly terrible lie. I thought it would require all my strength to get it back to the fairway. Unfortunately it came out flying, soared over the fairway and out of bounds on the other side. I dropped one in the reeds (playing six) and hacked out. I then thinned it into a bunker, blasted out and two putted for a 10. I went from +2 to +8 in one fell swoop.

The theme of golfing disasters continued yesterday on our return from Duff House. I’ve entered a fantasy golf competition this year, organised by the Association of Golf Writers. You pick a pro for each of the main tournaments through the year and score whatever that man earns from the event. The first counting tournament is this week’s Accenture Matchplay. Using careful analysis, looking at current form, past record, route to the final etc. I selected Henrik Stenson. I watched on helpless as he lost in the first round to Davis Love III… Remember Fergus, you are still the same person…

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?