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

One of the members of that three-man team was also in Scotland recently and remains one of my oldest and trusted friends.

He is also one for the box marked ‘scarred’. His troubles, much like mine, revolve around any club with loft and any ball near a green.

On his day he’ll whip it round in something very impressive but, when the wheels come off, it can be fairly spectacular.

“I couldn’t get a single putt to the hole for 45 holes – and this after feeling quite confident with the putter after the first round. I have no idea why this happened, beyond appalling technique, but had no power to stop it. It culminated with a lifetime worst total of putts in the fourth round, which climaxed with taking a sizeable divot on the 18th green.

“I also could not make myself hit through any shot. It felt like my body was collapsing from under me under the strain of hitting any shot and I was about two feet tall at impact.

“I could, however, still call shots. On a short downhill par 4 on the back nine I hit my one good drive of the day, took out a rescue club to hit a pathetic little bunt from 70 yards but then thought better of it and told my playing partners that one of two shots would follow: dunch or knife.

“Taking out the sand wedge I promptly hit the ball eight yards and walked off with a seven.”

Castle Stuart

Which brings me to the conclusion of the annual trip and the final fourball who were battling it out to become the Champion Golfer of the Year.

I was one quarter of this party and I had very gladly wilted just before the turn to score one point in three holes to take myself out of the running which meant a relatively stress-free back nine on Sunday – or, in this case, a Friday afternoon at Castle Stuart.

Player B – it’s only fair to keep their names out of this – had drunk three pints of Belhaven before his tee time to settle the nerves and continued to chip away at a hip flask to keep the voices at bay.

“Getting the balance right, drinks-wise, is very tricky. I have a general level of anxiety and fear induced by always considering the worst possible outcome. This results in severe tension and, just like Rotella, the outcome is exactly what was visualised but never in a good way.

“The loudest voice within will be saying ‘don’t shank it’.”

Right at the top of the tree was Player C who, much like our +2 friend, is on a different level. His backswing belongs on tour, he was a genuine schoolboy sensation and, despite not playing from 1998 to 2015, he is now a very good 4-handicapper.

He reached the turn in level par, playing off 2.

His closest challenger – we’ll call him Player D – was off 4. He reached the turn in 17 points.

We were all set for a battle royale and two of us would have the best seats in the house.

And then, enter stage left, the heebie jeebies…

A lost ball, with a shot, on 13 got the ball rolling for Player C while Player D then played the wrong ball to keep things as they were.

Player C then rather lost his pitching game.

“My fist real memory of a full swing yip was, unfortunately, at The Links at Spanish Bay on a trip to Pebble Beach about six years ago. It came out of nowhere, completely unexpected.

“My knees dropped and my right hand picked up pace in attempt to scoop the ball in the air, generally resulting in a 150-yard knife rather than a 115-yard wedge.

“It was so bad that by the 18th hole I tried to punch a soft 9-iron, had another full swing yip and the club was in two pieces before the ball had landed. It was the first and last time I’ve ever broken a club in 25 years of playing golf.

“Each time it happens it feels like a strong electric shock or a bolt of lightning shoots through my body, making it bend and move in ways I didn’t know were possible.”

He then bladed one from distance at 14, blobbed the next and, walking up the 16th to a 100-yard wedge, backed off several times, saying out loud ‘I haven’t got this shot, I haven’t got this shot.’

Meanwhile Player D’s right hand was now threatening to steal the show with a quite sensational yip at 15 which was the equivalent of a shank with an iron which was followed by three more putts at 16.

Thankfully his sublime long game was still on and his ability to hit a 3-iron to 15 feet was rewarded with a two-point lead over Player B and myself who had unwittingly backed ourselves back into contention. Walking off the 18th tee we quietly agreed that, in the unlikely event of a playoff, we would refuse to take part given that it would mean hitting more shots in front of more people.

Thankfully Player D hit a driver and 4-iron to the front edge of the par 5, chipped up to six feet from a bare lie (incredibly the rest of his game remains, for now, unafflicted) and missed his putt 18 inches short and right.

“The fear rating was 100 per cent on the back nine with zero chance of holing a putt. It started the previous day when I couldn’t control the swing of the putter – no matter how many practice strokes, hand presses, short backswings, long backswings, open stances or out-to-in swings that I would take my hands would just go off like an out-of-body experience and I had no control. I put it down to excess alcohol and fatigue.”

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