Golf is an effort to master one's environment, it was stated at a session
at the recent American Psychoanalytic Association meeting (see story
Psychiatric News asked session participants Richard Harris, M.D.,
Howard Katz, M.D., and Phil Lebovitz, M.D., about the psychological rewards
that a person can receive from succeeding at golf.
PN: What are the chances of a golfer making a hole in one during his or
Harris: I don't think that anyone can expect to make a hole-in-one
in their lifetime. It is fairly rare.
Lebovitz: Over the course of the year, there are about 81,000 tee
shots on par 3s by PGA Tour professionals. In most years, about one of every
2,500 par-3 tee shots ends up in the hole. And these are the best golfers on
the planet. For us amateurs, the chances are closer to one in 20,000 tee shots
or greater. Chances of making a hole in one are only slightly better than
winning a lottery prize.
PN: What does a hole in one mean psychologically to the golfer who makes
Katz: A hole in one is a great pleasure, but a rare event that
always includes luck as well as skill.
Harris: From a psychological standpoint, it's a kind of kick, it's
almost surreal. It isn't something that you really anticipate happening.
Lebovitz: A hole in one is the equivalent of hitting the perfect
golf shot. Golfers live with the constant hope that they will achieve
perfection and with the frustration that it so rarely happens.
Psychologically, a hole in one enhances one's pride and is narcissistically
reinforcing. It makes one feel special, part of an elite group.
PN: How important is a low handicap in golf, psychologically
Lebovitz: Whereas a hole in one can be chalked up to luck, a low
handicap gives the golfer a sense of achievement that is repeatable and
reliable. A low handicap provides more substantial bragging rights.
PN: How important is beating competitors in golf?
Katz: My own view is that achievement is quite personal—the
development of a sense of mastery that may for some be measured in terms of
competitive victories (winning a tournament or a match); for others in
achieving a "personal best," such as breaking [a score of] 90, or
80, or, for the best players, 70; and for others in improving one's average
score, as reflected by a lower handicap.
Harris: People can have low handicaps and be very good golfers, but
in competition don't do well. For one reason or another, when the pressure is
on, they can't perform. So I would say the greatest accomplishment is to
win—to beat the competition. And that is where some of the psychological
aspects come into play.