While many golfers wallow in self-pity and engage in self-abuse after disappointing performances, great players like Matt Kuchar quickly move on and focus on taking steps toward improvement. According to Dr. Gio Valiante, one of the world's most prominent sport psychologists specializing in golf, Kuchar's deep love of competition in general and the game of golf in particular have allowed him to become one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour in the past several years, to the point where he is now ranked ninth in the world (as of March 24, 2013).
In Valiante's newest book, Golf Flow, he uses Kuchar as an example of a golfer who “gets it” and who achieves a state of flow—an optimal performance zone in which time, control, effort, and awareness seem at once both suspended and intense. “One of the most defining and enduring characteristics of flow states is that they almost always occur when people are doing their favorite tasks,” Valiante explains. “The reality is that succeeding at Matt's level of play requires so much time, commitment, sacrifice, and dedication that external rewards, in the absence of love for the game itself, would never produce the type of golf that Matt produces week in and week out.”
Valiante, who in 2011 was named by Golf magazine as one of the 40 most influential figures in golf under the age of 40, says that the more acquainted you become with the game, the more you realize how frustrating it can be. This is true even though golf often begins as a love affair between the person and the game. Valiante acknowledges that this love affair eventually turns bittersweet as players enter into periods of high effort without resulting improvement. He explains, “The game turns on us all sometimes. We find ourselves in the dreaded slump, which often devolves quickly into hating the thought of ever playing golf again.” How golfers respond to this phase of development powerfully shapes their future development; a philosophical approach to the game, like Kuchar's, can be helpful.
Valiante has worked to improve the games of many top players, including Kuchar, Justin Rose, Stuart Appleby, Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III, David Duval, Fred Funk, and Alexis Thompson. And while he understands that frustration is part of the game, some players stick it out, embrace the highs and lows, and enjoy great success. It's in this regard that Kuchar's mind-set buffers him from developing a negative attitude. “The crucial point here,” says Valiante, “is that Matt doesn't only love golf when he's playing well. He loves everything about the game—the highs and the lows, the challenges and the successes. Matt doesn't love golf because he makes money at it. Matt makes money at golf because he loves it.”
Ultimately the lesson to learn from Kuchar is to keep falling in love with golf. “You will continue to grow and develop and change as a person, and as you do, your golf will evolve,” Valiante promises. “By enjoying each stage of development for what it is, you'll see the solutions to your game more quickly and effectively, keep better perspective, and manage stress better.” In Kuchar's case, his love for golf has allowed him to view disappointments as learning experiences rather than negative ones, and to channel his energy into answering a simple question all fearless golfers ask: What can I learn from this experience?
Written by one of the PGA Tour's most prolific performance consultants, Golf Flow offers a variety of time-tested principles and innovative strategies for keeping the mind quiet and distraction-free. Valiante shares the methods and strategies he has used with six of his PGA golfers, including Kuchar, to get them into, or back into, flow.