The 7th Secret

When I was a freshman at college, our class was given a talk on recreation. The speaker gave us advice which has proved itself so sound in my case that I would advise young men to heed it. He urged us to select hobbies that we could engage in for the balance of our lives. I chose bowling, chess, and golf. They have worked out very well for me as a permanent solution to the problem of recreation. One of the additional advantages of the selection was that I did not disperse my learning over many games.

There are a number of conditions which can weaken our interests. Here are precautions you should take:

  1. Avoid competing games. There is still a great deal of truth in the old adage: “Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” You can obtain a great deal more satisfaction out of a fair degree of excellence in one sport than from poor skills in a number of them. Constant poor showings will produce unnecessary feelings of inferiority.
  2. Avoid false discouragement. The best way of doing this is to keep records of all practice and play so that you know precisely what your present level of skill is. Most golfers who become discouraged do so unnecessarily.  A golfer who keeps records knows that practice inevitably brings about improvement—even with poor methods. As Harvey Penick once said, “You can learn to hit the ball with any method.”

Of course, our aim is to improve as fast as we can through sound methods of practice, but the point I wish to emphasize here is that golfers can injure their chances of improvement by becoming defeatists.

On this point, the psychologist William James presents an argument that is as appropriate to golf as it is to education.

“Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education, whatever the line of it may be. If he keeps faithfully busy each hour of the working day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. He can, with perfect certainty, count on waking up some fine morning to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he may have singled out. Silently, between all the details of his business, the power of judging in all that class of matter will have built itself up within him as a possession that will never pass away. Young people should know this truth in advance. The ignorance of it has probably engendered more discouragement and faint¬heartedness in youths embarking on arduous careers than all other causes put together.”

False discouragement (discouragement not based on facts) can also grow out of placing oneself in a position that invites defeat. Repeated defeats depress the ego. Unless a person can balance these with a series of repeated successes, he will become unnecessarily discouraged.

Here are a few practical ways to avoid false discouragement:

DO NOT play habitually with better golfers unless the handicaps are such that you win as often as you lose.

DO NOT limit yourself to players who always outdrive you.

DO NOT increase your betting when you will have to come from behind to win.

DO NOT bet against poorer golfers if they demand handicaps which will ensure their winning.

DO NOT attempt shots that you do not have in your bag.

DO NOT turn in a better qualifying score than you actually shoot. It is better psychologically to win in a lower flight than to lose in a higher one.

DO NOT concede any putts to yourself or your opponent that can be missed. Discouragement arises from the fact that in a tournament in which all putts must be holed out, you may think you are playing badly when in reality you are playing your regular game.

DO NOT “pull against” your opponent. A series of good or lucky shots on his part will make a defeatist of you. It is healthier to expect him to play well. If he misses or has tough luck, it will be so much gravy.

DO NOT play with persons who increase your anxiety.


  1. Avoid anxiety and worry in your personal life. The worries that arise from the process of everyday living affect golf. In virtually all cases, something can be done about them. Since such worries generally result in illness and financial loss, it is cheaper in the long run to seek help from a competent psychologist or psychiatrist. Most people make the mistake of taking unhappiness for granted.
  2. Avoid false pride. Many people will not seek emotional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist because they consider it a sign of weakness. But in this area, as in golf, it is a much greater weakness to have so much false pride that one cannot take advantage of the superior skills of others. Years ago many golfers had such false pride about instruction. Even today, some writers occasionally encourage such an attitude indirectly by emphasizing that a given player “has never had a lesson.” I do not doubt that there are such players, but their judgment is questionable. Most good golfers are anxious to help those with less skill. The golfer with the sort of false pride that prevents him from seeking help can waste years discovering what someone else can give him in a few minutes.