Are You Tom Watson or Greg Norman? The Power of Attitude in Golf

June 12, 2023
3 mins

In golf, the difference between great champions lies not only in their physical skills but also in their attitude and mental strength.

Recently I heard a story that compared and contrasted the attitudes and mindsets of two golfing legends: Tom Watson, a winner of eight majors during his career, and Greg Norman, who won two.

Watson and Norman may not have had much in common, but they did share one thing - the caddie Bruce Edwards was on both their bags for a time during their career. A captivating anecdote, shared by Edwards towards the end of his life, sheds light on the core difference between the two great players. Their attitude:

“Let’s say you’re three under (par) for the day but you drive it into a divot. Norman would look at me and say, ‘Bruce, can you believe my bad luck?’ Tom would look at the ball, look at the divot, wink at me and say, ‘Bruce, just watch how I get out of this one!’”

According to Edwards, Watson approached each round and each shot with a relentless belief in his abilities and a positive attitude. This unwavering mindset allowed him to face challenges head-on, maintain composure, and perform at his best when it mattered most.

The lesson here is that your attitude sets the stage for success. Embrace a mindset that is focused on possibilities rather than limitations. Cultivate confidence in your skills and approach every shot with a positive outlook. By adopting a determined and optimistic attitude, you'll enhance your ability to overcome adversity, stay mentally strong, and seize opportunities for greatness when you play golf.

In contrast, cursing your luck, like Greg Norman often would, is not a path to success. Norman was one of the most talented players of his generation. Even before he arrived on Tour, he was known as a prolific driver of the ball, for his towering iron shots, and for a wonderful short game. Double digit majors almost seemed inevitable, yet his two majors mean he'll forever be thought of as one of golf's underachievers.

Tom Watson, however, was barely even known before he got on Tour, and in his first few years competing, developed a reputation as someone who would crumble down the stretch, who might choke and throw away a tournament. Despite a wonderful short game (Jack Nicklaus once said that Watson could get up and down from inside a trash can) and a fearless putting stroke, he could be wild off the tee and end up in spots that even he couldn't escape from.

But according to Edwards, Watson never cursed his bad luck, instead focusing on the challenge of the next shot, walking positively to his ball, excited even by the chance of making a great recovery. So as his career progressed, and he became less wild off the tee, Watson started to win more and more.

While considering these two players, it got me thinking about other, more contemporary, comparisons. I arrived at Sergio Garcia, who has one major, and Padraig Harrington, who has three.

Sergio was touted as the great rival to Tiger Woods, perhaps the only player who could match his level of talent. He was expected to do great things and exceed Seve Ballesteros' haul of 5 major championships.

Harrington, in contrast, was predicted to win precisely nothing.

Sergio ended up with one major, the 2017 Masters. Harrington ended up with three - two claret jugs and a USPGA. Why?

The answer is their attitude. Harrington worked for years on his mental game with Dr Bob Rotella, developing mental strength, resilience, positivity, acceptance. By his own account, these are the traits that helped him win those majors, not his raw natural talent at hitting the ball. Harrington isn't deluded; he often refers to himself as golf's biggest overachiever.

Sergio was known as a sulky and emotional golfer, in fact his tantrums are there for all to see (all it takes is a quick trip to YouTube!). If he hit great shots, he'd be pumped up, and it'd make for fantastic viewing. But if he hit a bad shot, he could rapidly become negative, despondent even, cursing his bad luck. Getting in his own way, like Greg Norman. Looking backwards, not accepting the bad result. Whereas Harrington, and Watson, had already moved on, let it go. They were looking forwards and could respond positively.

In the end, the choice is yours. Which golfer are you, and which do you want to be? We'd recommend being more Tom Watson - that's the kind of golfer who enjoys the game more, hits great shots under pressure, accepts the times that they don't, and on average will win more and shoot lower scores.


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