Do you golf like a gorilla or a surgeon?

What kind of personality do you play to on the golf course?  Are you constantly trying to muscle up, bust the driver, and hit all the par fives in two?  Do you get your greatest thrill from thrilling others?  Or are you calculating and planning, dissecting every move and possibility down to the finest detail?  However you play, your course personality should fit your everyday personality, or you are going to struggle.

Just finished reading Gia Valiante’s “Fearless Golf” and his point of identifying if you are a ego-based or mastery-based player resonated well.  Phil Mickelson is the classic ego-based player who derives his greatest pleasure from wooing people with his extraordinary short game and daring recovery skills.  Sure he loves to win and definitely comes to the course with a game plan, but you see him time and again chuck the plan and take the daredevil approach.  Sometimes it plays out, as it did with his 6-iron through the pine trees at Augusta, other times he implodes under the weight of his own ego, as was the case on the 72nd hole at the 2006 U.S. Open.  As these unspeakables unfold, we ask ourselves, “how can he be so stupid?” but Phil is the consummate gambler on and off the course and it makes sense for him to play to his personality.  Is this you?

Or do you play like Jim Furyk?  Seems like he always has a plan, sticks to the plan, and nobody’s opinion of him or his swing is going to change that plan.  This is the mastery-based approach, where you execute on your skills, only play shots that you practice, and calculate risk/reward for every aspect of the game.  I’m known as a planner off the course and play to this personality (the surgeon) on the course.  When I cross from surgeon to gorilla, I pay a dear price.  A few years ago during a mid-summer round when everything was dry and rolling out, I hit a few par-5 holes in two and managed to drain an eagle putt.  All of a sudden I had gained the capacity to overpower courses and it took some very bad scoring for the balance of the year and some serious self examination to determine root cause.  It doesn’t make sense for a surgeon to play like a gorilla and in the same regard, someone like Phil Mickelson probably is more effective taking risks and riding the roller coasters.

To help you self-identify, consider:  Would you rather shoot even par for 18 holes by making five birdies, three bogeys, and a double bogey, or making 18 pars?

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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5 Responses to Do you golf like a gorilla or a surgeon?

  1. I always think there is a happy medium. No matter what your personality if you are always gambling you will be frustrated and if you are always playing safe you will never know how good you can be. I think a lot of course management is dictated by the type of day you are having. If you are having a tough time striking the ball then a more conservative approach should be done. If you are having a really good day hitting it then it may be time to cut the dogleg and go flag hunting. I think we are all guilty of trying to make something happen when it is not our day. If we get off to bad start we try to take a more aggressive approach which will lead to one of those way over handicap days.

  2. brianpenn says:

    Very salient points. I failed to mention that whatever personality you play to, you continually need to make adjustments, either in your course management or technique. Hopefully the adjustments are small and beneficial, and not, as you mention, trying to force the issue. Thanks for the comment!

  3. There is yet another medium for assessment. The classic definitions for “personality” center in the nurtured mask one wears “in order to gain the endorsement of other people.” In other words it is what we all put on as our social, interpersonal personna. There is plenty of research that the nurtrue crowd loves to belittle that shows we each have a genetic base for our behaviors thyat is all too often bent out of shape by social demands. That genetic base is referred to as behavior “style,” first outlined by Hippocates and later expanded by Dr. Carl Jung. It cn be summarily shown that when a person is under pressure,what will show up is style. Hence in a solitary game like golf, “style” is the critical ingredient to inform one’s approach to the game.

    So I was wondering how you know whether the gorilla and surgeon match personality or style. Unless they match style, they are vulnerable to whatever pressures may come upon them. Thousands of individual profiles of golfers tell this story in spades, since every one of them shows styles that differ from their personalities. That’s not an argument against your thesis, but a call to clarify the basis of the thesis.

  4. brianpenn says:

    My point was I think you cannot separate the style from the personality because one styles him/herself on the course according to their personality, whether consciously or subconsciously. I’ve found that I get a very good read on someone’s personality just by observing how they conduct themselves on the course. You can generally tell if someone is honest, calculating, methodical, emotional, outgoing, introverted, etc. And it’s difficult to play to a style opposite your personality because you’re out of your comfort zone. Sure it can be done, but the player will be more effective if they know who they are and are comfortable within his/her own skin.

    Thanks for the comment, Carey!

  5. I suspected that was your point. So I lifted the following from my newsletter of June, 2006, with a title of ‘How We Know What Isn’t So:’Perhaps, we should start with a list of issues, clarified, researched, explained, and carefully identified. The most outstanding of those centers in “style,” as differentiated from “personality.” No matter how much we say about it, the articles, books, public forum comments and questions from players, all reflect a belief that “personality” is “key” to playing golf at the highest level. If personality were the prime product as claimed, there would be a ton of players out there getting better by the minute. Personality can be molded, but notice – while that gets considerable “press,” if you know the “program,” you can literally see style countermanding personality when it counts the most. Personality may work on the driving range, at our jobs and socially, but not on the golf course when the game is on. We can “change” our personality, but we can’t change our styles – at least not without major consequences, one of which is a failure to improve our golf games, and another of which is vulnerability to one of a variety of short or long-termed mental or emotional twists that prevent the best of what is on our ownership lists. And if that seems strange to you, just review data from the last 30 to 50 years and see the many potholes that have marked our human failures in education, social interaction, and business practices, as compared to what was available immediately following world war II. In many ways, we have either “stayed put,” or gone backward. We have developed the resources, and a lot of quantity, but not much progress in quality.That goes double for our golf games, too.

    That same status is present with golf equipment. Balls are hotter and go further. Clubs show advanced “tech” and are made “stronger.” Instructors say they know more, the golf channel shows “all” daily, but even the best players can’t seem to hold the line. Standard five iron got 170 yards in years past. Today that same club will cover 230, by some accounts. Of course, that creates yet another set of myths. So with all that power, and a game plan filled with “mental toughness” and a set of requisites to make you a “champion,” why is it that no one, not even Tiger, has made that work as a steady diet, even though he seems consistently the closest to it.”

    My guess is that you missed the distinction between “style” and “personality,” or simply rejected it out of hand, believing that “style” comes after “personality,” and the evidence is that “style” comes first and is followed by “personality.” I wonder what scale or system you are using to distinguish between the two. I’ve dome it with more than 50,000 profiles over a 35 year period and the results of those clearly distinguish between the two and shows that players get better when learning and practising in harmony with their styles, and encounter more stumbles and glitches, especially under pressure when they follow personality lines. It’s one more peg in the nature vs. nurture discussions that are not likely to be resolved anytime soon, since there is a raft of information that is being omitted from those discussions.

    I won’t argue it further, since I do not expect to change your perception, but I’m unwilling to let yesr of research fall away without this much challenge, at least.

    Thank you for your response, too.

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