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Friday, October 5, 2012

Ryder Cup Lessons, Part 3a

Today's post will likely span two or even three days as I'll need to show why we have a problem understanding what's happening, lay out a proper understanding of how things actually work, and then apply that understanding to the question of what happened this past weekend. But before we get started...

Yesterday I looked at the team sessions. I'll recap those points here, in case they weren't quite clear -- because I realized later that I used the best Euro players to explain why the US won those sessions:
  • It's not a case of having the "best" players as determined by the stats on paper. Those stats are based on stroke play, where every stroke matters. In match play, stroke count is relative and bad scores don't hurt you as long as you have more good holes than bad holes. That's why Poulter is such a threat in match play despite not having the best stats -- he generally has more good holes than his opponents, so the bad holes don't matter as much as they would in stroke play. You may remember some charts that NBC and GC showed that compared the birdies each team scored the first two days... and the US had nearly a 2-to-1 advantage. Translation: More good holes than bad holes.
  • The teams that were truly dominant for both sides were the accurate teams, not the long teams. Bombers paired with straight shooters did well as long as the shooters were consistent; their consistency allowed the bombers to win the occasional hole and make the team more dangerous. Note that no bomber/bomber combination was able to win unless one of them was really on fire, Keegan Bradley (paired with an often wild Phil Mickelson) being the prime example.
  • Streakiness is good in match play. Colsaerts is the best example here; in the only match he won, he made 8 birdies and an eagle to carry his team. Obviously you get the best results if a consistent player is paired with a streaky one... and the streaky one gets hot.
Now let's look at the singles and ask the same simple question we asked back in 1999: What happened?

The answer to this question could potentially help your game as well, because a lot of it has to do with belief. No doubt you've been told to use positive self-talk to build your confidence -- among other psychological tricks of the trade -- and have been less than impressed with the results. It's particularly confusing when you consider that tournament leaders seem to have more problems with this than chasers, as happened in both 1999 and 2012 Ryder Cups... as well as in numerous regular Tour events this season. Why is it so hard to win with a lead? Shouldn't leaders be the most confident golfers on the course? Why are the chasers so often successful?

I promise you this won't degenerate into an evangelistic presentation. (I say that upfront because I know many of you aren't Christians.) But it's impossible to talk about this topic without religious references because... well, "belief " functions the same way whether it's belief in God or belief in yourself. In fact, most sports psychologists find themselves resorting to theological terms when dealing with self-confidence, and they often use them without fully understanding the implications of the terms.

It's very much the same with concepts like "love." Guys say "I love my wife" and "I love pizza" in the same breath and expect you to understand that the concept of "love" is the same in both cases while the difference is merely a matter of degree. (At least, we hope so. If you love pizza the same way you love your wife, I smell trouble brewing!) So if you don't understand both usages, you likely don't understand either.

The problem begins because so few modern people understand what it means to truly "believe." For example, I'm sure you've seen this commercial for Progressive Insurance:



"Why am I not going anywhere?" the clerk asks. And Flo replies, "You don't believe hard enough."

That's how most people view belief... and they're completely wrong. I wouldn't be afraid to say that most Christians view their faith this way as well, even though the Bible presents a much more complex picture. Let me show you three Bible verses that illustrate that complexity. (The verses came from the King James Version, but I've "de-eth'ed" the language so it's easier to understand. In other words, I changed phrases like "thou doest" to "you do." ) These are vital concepts if we expect to understand why leads are so hard to hold.

Most people, whether they go to church or not, have heard Mark 9:23:
Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.
By itself, this verse doesn't contradict Flo's assertion that you just need to believe "hard enough." Most of us do just that with self-talk. We try to talk ourselves into believing that we can do anything if we set our minds to it; and if we can't convince ourselves, we hire motivational speakers and sports psychologists to help us.

However, this is hardly the only verse about belief in the Bible. Most people, if they know about James 2:19, simply gloss over it:
You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
I'm not going to quote the entire section this verse is from -- this isn't a sermon, after all, though I'll have to come back to this Bible section later -- but I think most people would agree that all things are NOT possible to demons, no matter how hard they believe! Clearly there's more to this "belief" stuff than just agreeing with the right ideas.

Even Jesus, the speaker of the first verse I mentioned, would agree with that. In Matthew 17:20 we find this little gem. Jesus's disciples had tried to exorcise some demons and failed. When they asked Him why, we read:
And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.
First, Jesus says His disciples failed because of unbelief. Surely they believed the right things -- just like those demons mentioned earlier -- so again, belief must be a bit more complex than just believing the right things.

But He doesn't stop there. Jesus says that if they just had "a mustard seed" of belief, they could toss mountains around, let alone those nasty demons. (Again, even people who don't attend church have probably heard that "mustard seed faith" phrase.) Make sure you understand what Jesus is saying here -- mustard seeds are really small, folks.

QUICK NOTE: Here's one of those spots where I need to make sure you differentiate between having faith in God and having faith in yourself. "All things" might be possible in God's power, but not in a human being's power. Obviously tossing mountains around would require God's power! Again, we're talking about a matter of degree, as when we talk about loving both our spouse and pizza. But the broad principles of belief are the same, and that's what we're interested in here.

So now maybe you can see the problem:
  • Jesus say it's not enough just to believe, even if you believe the right things.
  • Furthermore, He says it's not a matter of believing "hard enough" -- just a "tiny bit" of belief will get the job done!
And yet, He still says "all things are possible to him that believes."

So just what the heck IS "belief," anyway? How did it affect the outcome of the Ryder Cup? And how can it help you perform better under pressure?

Since this post is getting long (just like the last two...) I'll pick up here tomorrow. And I promise it'll be worth the wait.

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