When I caddied for Gary Player on the tour, the thing that stuck with me the most was his incredibly positive attitude. Every shot he came to, no matter how bad the lie or how many obstacles were in the way, he knew he could pull it off. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the difficult shots even more than the clean ones. He’d stand over the ball and gaze at the target with anticipation. You could see in his eyes he knew exactly what he needed to do and had no doubt he could do it.
Gary never took a negative thought to the course, and he expected those around him to have that same attitude. He was not an easy man to caddy for. He had very specific expectations for those who carried his bag—you had to stand a certain way, place the bag down in a specific manner on each hole, and remain a perfect distance behind him during each shot. He saw his caddy’s actions as an extension of his pre-shot routine, and it had to be just right. But the most important thing he expected of his caddy was a positive attitude. He refused to hear any negative words or thoughts in his presence.
I learned early that when Gary was discussing club selection, he wasn’t really looking for advice but for positive confirmation of the club he had chosen. He might say to me on a particular shot, “Looks like about a 6-iron, what do you think?” I might have questioned his choice in my mind, but I would never have dreamt of saying, “I think it’s a 5.” My job was to say, “Looks like a perfect 6 to me too!” Putting even a hint of doubt into the air was considered a huge breach of protocol and might have even gotten me thrown off his bag.
“You need a fantastic memory to remember the great shots and a very short memory to forget the bad ones.”
Gary also had a tremendous memory for shots he had hit in the past. Whenever he made a great save, he would log it deep in his memory bank for future reference, and when he came to a difficult lie or shot, he would let his mind take him back to a similar one he had made some time earlier—even years beforehand. Then he would reflect on that instance, remembering the angle and projection of the ball and the swing he used to carry it out. He visualized himself hitting that same shot, and then he’d take a club and repeat it. More often than not, he pulled it off beautifully, giving him even another great shot to remember.
This practice worked wonderfully to help build his confidence and create positive thoughts in the midst of trouble. When I went on tour I started integrating this habit into my own game.
Anything that can help you create a sense of confidence on the course is worth trying. The next time you find yourself struggling with doubt over a shot, try replaying your greatest saves in your mind, and then visualize yourself repeating those same strokes. Remembering that you’ve pulled off difficult shots before is a great way to help you do it again.