In this week’s column, Ivan Morris’s old pals Mutt and Jeff start asking the tough questions about what makes a player mentally strong
Mutt: What makes a good clutch player? Is it talent? Is it guts? Is it heart? Is it confidence? Is it composure? Is it a bit of luck at the right time? Is it the right type of headwear?
Jeff: I'm not sure what you mean by headwear but knowing you, you'll be meaning something. I would think it is the ability to stay calm and objective and think clearly under pressure. Not suffering self-doubt and not being afraid to step up and hit the required shot when it is important. Jason Day's magnificent bunker shot at the final hole in Arnie's Tournament at Bay Hill, was one of those 'momentous' shots. Only a select few can function in such situations - not afraid to fail because they never think of failing. The hardest part is not the winning but the putting yourself in a position to win. 95% of us are out of contention long before that elusive chance to win arrives.
Mutt: There seems to be no end to the way science is invading the simple act of hitting a ball with a stick. The latest news I have picked up on is that the very same Jason Day has taken to wearing a neurological helmet during practice sessions in order to find out if there is a connection between the activity in his brain and hitting good and bad shots. The research involves analyzing ways the muscles react to involuntary thought and if humans can use that knowledge to improve their performance?
Jeff: I bet they will find out the less brain activity the better the shot!
Mutt: Sometimes, Day has as many false starts as Keegan Bradley and Jim Furyk added together and I, for one, don't appreciate it! Day's pre shot routine varies wildly from shot to shot what with him closing his eyes and taking deep breaths that can last a few seconds or what seems like forever. I thought pre shot routines should be exactly the same every time? When they differ so wildly surely they lose their effectiveness? Apparently, some technology company has developed a gadget that 'reads' brain activity. A quiet mind registers green (for 'go') and a busy mind registers red for 'stop!' Jason's pace varies due to him waiting for the moment at which he will perform at his best. The time it takes to 'dial in' your mind can vary.
Jeff: What about Paul McGinley saying that Rory McIlroy would never putt as well as Jordan Spieth? Well, if that's his opinion, Rory will never win as often as the Texan and he may never be No. 1 again.
Mutt: Jordan Spieth may never putt like Jordan Spieth again either. He is nowhere near the same putter in 2016 that he was in 2015. Rory had 'room' to improve his putting but Jordan hadn't. Rory will be back at No. 1 after winning The Masters next week.
Jeff: Gosh, I don't know about that. Rory will be at a disadvantage at Augusta where the greens always favour the better putters over the better ball-strikers. Rory doesn't look in full control of his long game lately and there are several of his competitors playing better than him at the moment: Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Jason Day, for example.
Mutt: The point is that Rory hasn't been taking his chances. Eventually he will take one and all the misses will be forgotten. When you score the winning goal, all is forgiven.
Jeff: It's a good attitude to have because competitiveness is a hard balancing act. Better to be 'chilled' than uptight.
Mutt: Here's a stat that will blow your socks off. Spieth's conversion rate on the greens since he turned pro is 40%. Forty! Think about that. Nobody can keep that up. If Mickey Mouse could be sure of that conversion rate on the greens, he could turn pro too.
Jeff: This much is true: A golfer is vastly better off with a bad swing and a good attitude than a good swing and a bad attitude.
Mutt: I agree but what about this? We give a golfer, like Bubba Watson, with great hands and an iffy temperament a hard time but what do we say about a player with a fantastic temperament but an iffy swing and 'bad' hands? Nothing - because you will never have heard of him.
Jeff: Food for thought there, all right! Students of golf will say that the key is hitting shots from the subconscious mind. Jason Day's helmet seems like madness to me because he is appearing to want to control the uncontrollable. No one can control the 'bad thoughts' that come into one's head. The only action is to send them back out again as quickly as possible.
Mutt: If you think about it, Bubba Watson might actually be the best golfer of all right now. He says: "I see a shot and try to hit it. I’m scared to death on most of them but I try to hit it anyway." That's because all he thinks about is 'results' and where he wants the ball to go by drawing pictures in his mind's eye. Golfers are better off having nothing going on under their helmets - and Bubba does that better than most with his see it, feel it, do it approach.