Inside the head of a champion

This passage is from Gary Player’s new book Don’t Choke. The great golfer poses and then answers a question which is the holy grail of the mental side of top level sports – what is going on in the player’s mind as he prepares to encounter a critical moment in the game?

In Player’s case he was standing over a daunting shot on one of the final holes of the 1968 British Open, tied for the lead, the wind howling behind him.

I reached for a three wood and stood over the ball. Now came that moment. That moment when the entire world condenses into a dimpled sphere at your feet. When everything you are, and hope to become, crushes down upon you in the confined arc of a golf swing. Do you want to know what was going through my mind?

The answer is the antithesis of what most of us expect hear. There is no mumbo jumbo about tunnel vision or positive thinking. Instead we have this.

It’s simple, really. I saw a nine-year-old boy sitting on a bench in the freezing cold of a winter’s morning in Johannesburg, South Africa. He waits for a tram to take him across town, where he then walks to catch a bus as part of the long journey just to get to school. It’s still dark, and he sits on that bench alone. His father is working deep in the gold mines. His mother has passed away from cancer. His older brother is far away fighting a world war. His sister is at boarding school. His only friend is an elderly black gentleman named John Mashaba, who makes him breakfast and dinner in the evenings, when he returns home to a dark house. And as he sits on that bench, the boy says to himself, “Someday I’m going to be a world champion.

Gary Player will probably never make a great motivational speaker – or will he make a very effective one?

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