Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Tom Watson

The following appeared in the November 15, 2006 issue of USA Today: “DT Albert Haynesworth said he learned through counseling that he should quit bottling up his emotions until they explode, a problem that landed him the NFL’s longest suspension for an on-field act. His remorse and willingness to seek help since kicking Dallas Center Andre Gurode in the face with his cleats is why he will practice today. But the Titans are requiring Haynesworth to continue that anger-management counseling. ‘I just want to keep doing it,’ Haynesworth said. ‘Honestly, it’s helping. I can actually talk about stuff. My wife likes it, too. I actually open up and talk about problems I have.’ Haynesworth worked out Monday, the first day he was eligible to return form his five-game suspension.” Is it possible the Titans realized the value of not bottling up emotions and have since had their entire team involved in the process? Withholding (bottling up feelings and emotions) is a form of lying that demeans an athlete and negatively affects his or her self-esteem. By not withholding, athletes enhance their self-esteem, thereby enhancing performance.

In the 1986 U.S. Open Golf Tournament, rumors floated about Tom Watson’s personal life. After an opening round of 72, he called a press conference and announced he was not an alcoholic, he was not divorcing his wife, and he was not firing his brother-in-law as his agent. He cleared the issues from his head and focused on golf. The next day he shot an outstanding 65 and finished runner-up in the tournament.

I used to play a lot of handball and one day I was entered in a tournament in Overland Park, Kansas, where I used to live. Just before I left home, my wife and I got into a little tiff. I didn’t think much of it at the time but after I had suited up and was about to step onto the handball court, something didn’t feel right. So I decided to call my wife and when she answered the phone I apologized for some of the things I had said and she apologized to me also and we decided to take care of the matter when I returned home later. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me and how much she appreciated my calling her. I hung up the phone, stepped onto the court, and played some of the best handball I had ever played. And I’m convinced that had I not made that phone call, I would have played some of the worst.


In November, 1997, Tom Watson quit drinking and his wife, Linda, divorced him. Not long after, in 1998, Professional Golfer Denis Watson (of Zimbabwe) went through a divorce when his wife, Hilary, left him and their three infant children (Kyle, Paige and Ross) and shortly thereafter, in 1999, married Tom. She must have been madly in love with Tom to have abandoned her three small children and one would think that, right after Tom and Hilary were married, his golf game would have improved immensely. But it didn’t. It’s difficult to build any kind of relationship on other people’s unhappiness. Hilary’s feelings of guilt had to have a negative effect on Tom and his golf game.

Fast forward to 2009 when Hilary’s children are older and have joined Tom and her on their farm in Stilwell, Kansas, and Hilary was once again happy. Which, of course, positively affected Tom’s game. That same year, nearing his 60th birthday, Tom led the British Open much of the way before losing in a play-off. I don’t think it was a coincidence that when Hilary had her children back with her, Tom’s game improved.

What takes place away from the golf course affects what takes place on the golf course.  Two good examples are Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.  In the case of Mickelson, he’s being investigated by the federal government for alleged insider trading in the stock market and if found guilty could serve time in prison.  But even worse, the stress he’s experiencing could already be affecting his health since it was reported that he is “battling the lingering effects of strep throat” and a case of strep throat could easily be an advance indication of something more serious, such as cancer. The R.A. Bloch Cancer Support Center in Kansas City, Missouri, has conducted past research that indicates that stress produces hormones in a person’s body that impairs their immune system, and cancer cells in their body begin to multiply at a rate faster than their immune system can devour them. (This is called the Surveillance Mechanism Theory that was discovered by the late Dr. Carl Simonton.)  Note: Since writing this entry, Mickelson’s game has improved considerably so it’s possible (and I’m only saying possible) that he received good news from his attorneys assuring him that he would not serve any time in jail.  But this is only conjecture on my part.

In the case of Tiger Woods, his problems aren’t nearly as severe since, according to press reports, he is battling an ex-wife who is reportedly insanely jealous of his relationship with Olympic Skier Lindsey Vonn and she could be using his children to get back at him.  In divorce cases, when there is on-going anger and jealousy, the children are often used as pawns.  Tiger has two choices:  He can file with the courts to gain sole custody of his children (something that is unlikely to happen) or he will have to wait until his children are old enough to express their desire, to a judge, that they want to live with their father.  That could take quite some time since the children have to be of a specific age, which was the case with Tom Watson when he remarried.  Watson married a woman, also named Watson (who was the wife of another PGA golfer) who had abandoned her two young children to marry him.  Her unhappiness weighed heavily on their marriage.  After a number of years of mediocre golf (for him) the children finally reached the age where they could decide which parent they wanted to live with and his wife was awarded custody.  I assume her children are now living with them which would explain his improved performance.

“Observations that contradict existing wisdom often lead toward, not away, from the truth.” – Anonymous

In 1960, Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote “Psycho Cybernetics” – a runaway best seller, and in it he introduced the concept of visualization, which subsequently was embraced by universities and colleges across this nation who were offering PhDs in sport psychology. In his book, Dr. Maltz wrote of the “Theatre of the Mind” and maintained that if individuals were to visualize something in their lives, it will take place, regardless of what is happening in their personal lives.

I must not be a very persuasive person because for the past 26 years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to convince others of something that I accidentally stumbled upon. That is, if an athlete is encumbered with unresolved issues and/or problems in his or her personal life, visualization techniques are totally ineffective. And in 1987, I read something in the media that absolutely convinced me I was on the right track. It involved one of golf’s greatest visualizers, Tom Watson. Here’s what happened: Rumors were floating around about Tom Watson’s personal life during the 1987 U.S. Open Golf Tournament. After an opening round of 72, he called a press conference and announced he was not an alcoholic, he was not divorcing his wife, and he was not firing his brother-in-law as his agent. Whatever impression his declaration made on sportswriters, he cleared the issues from his head and focused on golf. The next day he shot an outstanding 65 and finished runner-up in the tournament.

I think the main reason I’ve been unable to get this fact across to the general public is because our educational institutions are teaching otherwise. At the present time, if you have a degree in sport psychology and attempt to help an athlete with his or her personal issues you could lose your license. The reason for this is that you would be entering the domain of the clinical psychologist, which is taboo since the field of psychology is very territorial. My recommendation is that when our universities and colleges award a student with a PhD in sport psychology, they should, simultaneously, require that the student also have a masters degree in counseling. This will enable the student to help athletes with their personal problems and issues without losing his or her license. But for change to come about, our universities and colleges would be required to acknowledge they have erred over the past 52 years, and I really doubt that will happen.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Tom Watson made a hole-in-one at the 2011 British Open after having watched footage Friday morning of Gene Sarazen’s hole-in-one at the 1973 British Open at Royal Toon. “Maybe that’s what inspired me today“ Watson said. I think it did more than inspire him. There are many athletes who watch videos of other athletes whose fetes they want to emulate as a form of visualization and if their lives are in harmony they will re-create in competition that which they saw in the videos they watched. Running backs in the NFL do it, heavyweight boxing champions do it, the list goes on and on. And by the way, when Tom’s namesake, 20-year old British amateur Tom Lewis, led all scorers at the end of the first round, I believe you can chalk that up to his playing with his idol, Tom Watson. Just being in Watson’s presence enhanced Lewis’ feelings of self-worth and as we all know, there’s a high correlation between self-esteem and performance.

N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

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