The power of negative thinking: Playing with the inner demons in full voice

The Scoop

On tour they talk of positivity, good visuals and staying on an even keel. Mark Townsend and his peers are as far removed from this world as possible

“I’m not sure I am capable of going more than a couple of holes without hearing the voices piping up. On some days I have no issue quietening them, on others it can be quite an exhausting experience. I’ve heard the voices for a number of years now.”

This person plays off +2.

For a multitude of reasons – his general golfing ability, his capacity to save par from sand at least 90 per cent of the time, his clothes, his demeanour on the course and his pencil bag with just one sleeve of balls in – he is my amateur golfing hero. He is everything I’d like to be and everything I’m not. Smiles greet the very occasional bad shot and he’ll then get going again with a string of birdies.

Then, after a recent trip to Scotland, he revealed the noises of his inner chimp to me. My personal feeling is that we’re all the same, tour pro or otherwise, and that we all spend four hours every time we play wracked by self doubt. And as much as we love the game and being out there it’s generally an exhausting process.

Or maybe I’m just tarring everyone with my own mentally messy brush.

He goes on: “When playing well I can step away and gather myself and consciously insert a positive thought which will help me to get away with it. When things aren’t going well it’s always harder to stop.

“Like in many things if you are playing well, it’s because you are in a bit of a groove and following some sort of process which will enable you to flag up the issue or voices. When things aren’t going well and I’m tired/hungover/not focused, the voices have a field day and bring in shots I’ve never even thought about hitting.

“They came on particularly strong on the par-5 12th at Dornoch when they inserted the knifed 6-iron into my consciousness which, even after stepping away and shouting at them to shut up, I duly hit.”

Dornoch

If I’m being honest I’ve had The Fear since 1988 when I was shown a very different side to the game. Arriving at Kenilworth for the Golf Foundation national finals I was a happy-go-lucky and horribly self-conscious 17-year-old boy. Leaving there a day later I was broken.

I was fairly fragile on arrival when it emerged that half the field had come straight from the British Boys, then a starter appeared in front of me and insisted on checking the way our balls had been marked. The final nail in the mental coffin came when my playing partners were at least three shots better than me. It was all three medal scores to count and I should have stepped aside after the London qualifier for someone in the year below. But we had won by 13 and I was shown a misjudged show of confidence.

After four holes everything was fine, two pars, two bogeys. All I wanted to do was score very close to 80 and ideally under it. I had practised every day for a month and was secretly quite hopeful.

Standing in the middle of the wrong fairway at the 5th I then piped a sand iron into a bush. I’m sure I had hit the odd hosel rocket but nothing of note for a few years and not on such a grand stage.

The organiser, I think he was called Hugh Squirrel and had played for Wales, gave me a weak smile as I approached the green and I missed a 12-inch putt for a seven. I trebled the next and then proceeded to shank six pitching wedges all from the middle of various fairways which, by the middle of the back nine, were almost going behind me.

Four of those were unplayable, I barely knew the rules so had to keep asking my playing partners what to do and where to drop and, come the close of the longest four hours of my life, I signed for a 91.

It was the round that I wish I had never played and 30 years on one that I can still recall shot by shot.

From there on to now the game has scared me.

Tiger Woods

Read on for more twitching, yipping and generally going to pieces at the business end of things..

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