Since 1927, when America sent over 12 golfers to take part in the first ever Ryder Cup, the golfing landscape has never been the same. Contested on a biennial basis, the Ryder Cup brings together individual golfers to play in a team environment. This happens in many other sports around the world, for example The British and Irish Lions, Great Britain Rugby League team, the NBA and MLB all star teams. The difference being that these sports are always played in teams. They present their own challenges but bringing together a team of athletes, who only usually play for themselves, is a different matter entirely.
The players must immerse themselves in the team ethos and environment. Some players do this better than others with players coming to the fore for their respective sides. Ian Poulter, who has never won a Major golf tournament has collected 8 points from a possible 11 in the Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods on the other hand, who has won 14 majors, has only won 13 from a possible 29. The worst record for an American in Ryder Cup history. What changes in this team environment?
The Ryder Cup is an example of a co-active team sport where the players play individually to gain points but in the end it is the success of the team that determines whether they win or not. Cohesion is a term talked about a lot in team sports as it has a direct impact on success. Cohesion on the golf course and in the dining room and team room afterwards will have a direct impact on success (Carron et al., 2002). Players will deal with these challenges differently. Some will rise to the challenge of working together, others will shrink.
Golf is one of the most mentally challenging sports there is. The time in between actions allows the player the opportunity to make a measured decision about what shot to play next. Time can also be a hindrance. Instinct is taken away and replaced my methodical decisions based on wind speed, wind direction, pin placement, previous experiences etc etc etc. These methodical decisions are extremely important and should not be discarded in golf but when golfers have too much time to think, when they begin to consciously control their movements, this is when problems arise. Golfers have trained enough that executing a golf swing has become an unconscious skill – it is second nature to them. Anxiety is the main cause of their normally unconscious skills becoming conscious. In golf, this can often be described as the ‘yips’ Smith et al., (2000) described this as ‘jerks, tremors or spasms’ affecting the lower arm, and seem to occur in other sports where precision and fine motor control are pressured.
Expert performers will generally use less mental effort to perform a skill than you or I. The process of swinging a golf club for them is not the challenge. The pressure that builds, during the week and during each hole, is what will affect them. Graeme McDowell, a Major winner, described the last 9 holes of the 2010 Ryder Cup triumph as the “most nerve-racking of my life”. Luckily for him, and Europe, he held his nerve. Hunter Mahan on the other hand fluffed a chip that 9 times out of 10 he would have put close to the hole. This was a high pressure situation where the nerves impacted on his performance and his normal unconscious skill become conscious.
In a Ryder Cup, all of these senses are heighted. The crowd is something that, for rookie Ryder Cup players, they will have never experienced before. To an extent, normal golfing etiquette is left at home. Polite clapping is replaced by hooting and hollering and not just from the fans. This can encourage players and they will thrive off it. In 2012 in Medina, Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson both played their tee shots with the crowd in full voice. Not something you would find at The Open Championships. Maybe this is why Poulter enjoys and performs to his best at the Ryder Cup, he is an avid football fan and this brings in some of the passion that is often showed during matches.
Leadership will also play a huge part in deciding who triumphs come Sunday. With each captain having their team of vice captains, there is no shortage of experience of both sides to call upon. They will be plotted around the golf course to report key information back to McGinley and Watson to enable them to make informed decisions. Each captain will have a plan of how he wants to set his team out but depending on form, weather and the opposition. However, things will inevitably change over the course of the weekend and some tough decisions will have to be made.
In 2010, Colin Montgomerie said that “if they need motivating, they shouldn’t be here”. Whether players are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated will have a bearing on how successful the players and team is. Intrinsically motivated players are interested in improving themselves and enjoying the sport whereas extrinsically motivated players are interested in rewards and recognition (Ryan and Deci, 2000). It could be said that you would want, for this weekend, an extrinsically motivated player as they want the rewards and want to win. This is not to say that intrinsically motivated players do not want to win but they will see winning and rewards as secondary to their improvement. Karageorghis and Terry (2011) state that a mix of both will motivate the player to improve and they will be encouraged by winning which will continue the cycle of improvement.
There are hundreds of factors that will affect the Ryder Cup this weekend in Gleneagles, ones that no one will have even though about yet. However, to win the Ryder Cup, the teams must come together, leave egos and emotions at the door, and play the golf of their lives!
Carron, A.V., Colman, M.M., Wheeler, J. and Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in sport: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 24, 168–188.
Karageorghis, P. And Terry, P (2001). Inside Sports Psychology. Human Kinetics.
Ryan, R.M and Deci, E.L (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychological Association, 55, 68-78.
Smith, A.M., Malo, S.A., Laskowski, E.R., Sabick, M., Cooney III,W.P. and Finnie, S.B. (2000). A multidisciplinary study of the ‘yips’ phenomenon in golf: An exploratory analysis. Sports Medicine, 6, 423–437.
Buy and download up to 400 infographics!Buy infographics
About Mark Brodie
I am a BASES Probationary Sport and Exercise Scientist focusing on psychology. Founder of Think.Win Sports Psychology Consultancy.