Matt Kuchar's love for the game is a big reason for his success. (Getty Images)
By Gio Valiante, Special to PGATOUR.COM
Matt Kuchar, winner of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, is the perfect role model of a great mental game for a variety of reasons, three of which I’ve highlighted below.
First of all, he is a model of resilience. While most fans remember Kuchar’s stellar amateur career at Georgia Tech and his early win at The Honda Classic in 2002, many are unaware of the adversities that he faced. Even after winning his rookie season, Kuchar lost his PGA TOUR card two years later and was demoted to the Web.com Tour.
As I teach my clients, every golfer faces adversity, and it is how you deal with that adversity that defines a career. Rather than get upset, embarrassed, or angry, Kuchar simply reinvested himself in his game and worked harder. It was through his continued efforts that he first met his swing instructor Chris O’Connell, and they began building a game that would sustain. Thus, resilience through adversity is the first lesson Kuchar illustrates.
Second of all you never see Kuchar get angry on a golf course. Anyone who has followed Kuchar over the years knows the story behind that smile: as a junior golfer, Kuchar had gotten angry on the golf course and threw his clubs. To teach him a lesson, his parents took away his golf clubs.
Even today, Kuchar makes references to this as an important formative experience. As he said last week at the World Match Play, “I can remember as a kid getting in big trouble. I remember throwing my clubs into the water and having to be made to go fetch it out of the water, and then my clubs were taken away from me. I remember that being just a terrible punishment, when my clubs were taken away. I've learned my lesson.”
Indeed, anger in golf is not only bad etiquette; it is also bad form since it leads to the sort of muscle tension that can undo even the best golf swing. Thus, Kuchar’s easygoing demeanor on the golf course should not be mistaken for lack of competitiveness, but rather a strategy he has developed to make him play his best golf. As he has often said, golf will beat you up. You don’t need to help it by beating yourself up.
The third reason that Kuchar is a model for golf has to do with his motivation. You see, psychologists judge motivation not only by the amount, but also by the quality. Anger, jealousy, embarrassment, and fear can all provide a great amount of motivation, but it is not necessarily the type or quality of motivation that can fuel excellence over the long haul.
The best types of motivation are competitive excellence and … love. Kuchar has both of these qualities. Anyone who has ever played him in tennis or pingpong knows that he is ultra competitive in those as well. The other great motivation is love of the game of golf. In 2010, Kuchar gave an interview that illustrates his mindset for golf, and what his motivation is. This summarizes the approach that I believe everyone should take to the game of golf:
“I love the game. I love playing golf. I love practicing. I love everything about it. I love having chances. And even when the chances don't go your way, I think it makes you tougher, makes you stronger. If you don't get beaten up by it, if you keep on stepping forward, all those close calls, they're going to make you better for opportunities in the future. It's fun. I have a great time out here. I enjoy life as a professional golfer. I think it's a great life … And I feel awfully fortunate."
So, what is the true secret to Kuchar’s mental game? He has become more resilient through adversity, he practices an attitude of gratitude, and that he’s never fallen out of love with the game of golf.
Gio Valiante is a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and the author of “Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game.” His clients, which includes Matt Kuchar, have won more than 40 PGA TOUR events. He can be reached at www.fearlessgolf.com.