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Putting Tantrum
Lurks Within

Because you play golf, you will know that buried deep within us is a putting tantrum waiting to happen on every green.

It seems that we are all destined on occasion to suffer cruelly at the hand of the god charged with oveseeing our efforts. It is as if he wants to test our mettle under adverse conditions.

I don’t know of any game that makes you so ashamed of your profanity

President Taft – America’s first avid Presidential golfer

Fortunately most of the time we manage to cap our store of pent-up frustration and anger, but occasionally the genie gets out of the bottle and the air turns blue around us. In Australia it is referred to as 'spitting the dummy'.

If there is ever a game to test your patience, then golf is the game. It is not a game where others play a large part; it is usually just you, your emotions, and the course. A putting tantrum is as much a hazard as a bunker. Both can ruin a good score.

Most golfers when they lose it during the occasional putting tantrum are mad at themselves, not outside agencies. The message on the beer mug says it all "I play golf therefore I swear".

In 1898 the golf columnist Silvertown penned these words in the Weekly Times.

"Why it should surpass all games in the fascination it exercises over its devotees, is no more difficult of explanation than the extraordinary irritable effect the game has on the temper.

Even a hot-tempered man does not, as a rule, indulge in bad language, or break his implements at billiards, tennis or cricket, but men of the mildest moods will indulge in the most reprehensible speech and actions on making a bad shot at golf.

Some will deliberately break their clubs, and clergymen of the highest moral standards will at times give way to their feelings in most unclerical style".

Weekend golfers don’t have to put up with ill-disciplined galleries, or the distraction of television cameras and photographers. The chance of a mobile phone going off while you putt is most unlikely.

The occasional shout of 'Fore' may put us off, but we are plagued with a far greater problem that will test our ability to stay calm, or, failing that, to bite our tongue. This is the problem of inconsistency.

How is it possible to sink a twenty-foot putt on one green, and then on the very next hole miss from within a foot? It is enough to tip us over the edge or as the saying goes 'for a dog to bite its master'.

While a putting tantrum and an outburst of profanities among amateurs are known to happen, they are fortunately not in the public domain. It is in the professional arena that outbursts are closely witnessed and reported on by the media.

The heat of professional competition creates the ideal powder keg for volatile eruptions of bad language and acts of petulance. I often wondered if John McEnroe had played golf instead of tennis how he would have fared.

Would he have been disqualified from every tournament for arguing and carrying on? Would putting tantrum follow putting tantrum? You can’t imagine a golf professional, on receiving an unfavourable ruling, shouting at the rules official that he can not be serious.

All tours have a strict disciplinary code that deals with swearing, throwing clubs and other displays of inappropriate behaviour. There is a system of fines and if needs be disqualification.

Most players behave with the appropriate decorum, but others have to seek outside help to cap their firebrand temperament. The psychologists call it 'Anger Management'.

Of course, this may not an accurate picture of what goes on behind the scenes as the television cameras at each event are on the leaders, not on those struggling at the back of the field. It is hard to get too mad when you are playing well. I have never seen a player on sinking a long putt, embark on a putting tantrum.

One curious thing I have noticed when following foreign players who were struggling with their game is that they have for the most part adopted English as the language to express their frustrations.

We learn how to behave when we are young. This is why positive role models for young adolescents are so important. The fathers of Bobby Locke and Bjorn Borg dealt with their sons’ lively temper by banning them from the game until they had learned how to behave properly.

Greg Norman credits his father Merv for ridding him of his early tendency to throw clubs. However, Norman von Nida failed his exam. He had a short fuse and was a renowned club breaker and club thrower, in particular he liked to throw his putter when it failed him. A putting tantrum with twist.

Perhaps his role model was Bobby Jones who in his early career was one famously described by American sports writer Grantland Rice as "a club-throwing, profanity-howling menace". In the 1921 US Open at Columbia CC he threw a club that struck a female spectator in the leg and received a stern rebuke from the then USGA President.

Von Nida’s feisty temper involved him in an incident in a 1948 tournament in Texas when the police had physically to separate him from a fellow competitor Henry Ransom during a fist fight.

He again demonstrated his hot blooded temperament at the 1955 Australian Open at Gailes Golf Club. While Bobby Locke was standing by to accept the Stonehaven Cup, he snatched the microphone and announced that the tournament had been a disgrace to golf in Queensland.

As we know the golfer who is synonymous with having a bad temper is Tommy Bolt who played in the 1950s. As a regular club thrower he earned the nicknames of 'Terrible Tommy' or 'Thunder Bolt'.

He understood the aerodynamics of club flight establishing that the driver flew the shortest distance. The best club to throw for distance was the putter, followed by the sand wedge. It was also important to fly the club sideways rather than overhand as the shaft was less likely to break.

Later on in his career he claimed that he launched clubs because that was what the gallery expected of him. "It thrills the crowd to see a guy suffer". He referred to it as showmanship, plain and simple.

The modern era also has its share of hotheads. Steve Pate was fined once a year for throwing clubs, but mostly for bad language. His name on the tour was 'Volcano' as he was prone to erupt.

Craig Stadler, always a heartbeat away from losing his composure, was the leader of the red-faced brigade. John Daly played putting green polo with his ball taking 11 on the 8th hole during the final round of the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst and was lucky not to be disqualified.

Tiger Woods is given to pouting, profane outbursts at himself and banging his putter on his bag. Pat Perez’s speciality is burying his clubs into the ground.

Children are told to count to 10 when they are angry. The golfer’s equivalent is a post-shot routine. Instead of rushing into a stream of negative self-talk, profanity or club whacking, you can lower your heart rate and improve your mood by taking a moment to reflect on your shot from an outsider’s point of view.

Every golfer’s motto for anger management should therefore be to 'Accept the result, smile to yourself, and then focus on the next shot'. Hard to do, certainly, but one way to avoid a total melt-down.

Perhaps the last word of advice, when you are about to launch into a putting tantrum, should go to Peter Thomson. His take on anger is simple. "Anger gets you in trouble and it is wise to get rid of it quickly".

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