Meghan MacLaren: “How to make the most of your ‘golf IQ'”

Meghan MacLaren explains the key part of ‘golf IQ’ is knowing what works for you and sticking to it. 

There is an old cliché in golf that to be truly successful, you must be one of two things: extremely intelligent or extremely not-intelligent. The truth, like most things in life, is more likely that we all lie somewhere in the middle, but the premise is an interesting one to dive into. 

The top tier of men’s professional golf certainly offers some examples. The way Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson approach the game would perhaps indicate those two ends of the spectrum. Despite all the stories and analysis and content Bryson has given us over the last year, the instance that will always show the most genuine glimpse inside his golf-consumed brain is his meltdown on the driving range at The Open Championship in 2018.

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The sight of a professional golfer at a Major – on the driving range – losing his head to that extent hit me for some reason. Maybe it’s because on some level I can relate. I’ve been in that position of hitting balls while at a complete loss as to what to do to “fix” whatever it is that’s happening. That stubbornness (or immaturity) won’t let you stop trying, even though there is no control whatsoever. It’s more than just frustration. It can be disorientating and scary.

To reach that level of despair shows a lack of belief or trust in where you are and what you are doing. But I also think you can only get to a place like that if you are completely and utterly consumed by golf, almost in an unhealthy way.

The intriguing thing about Bryson is how this appears to be his only way of operating. That is how he is successful. We see him week after week, hitting balls in the darkness, one or two coaches telling him what he needs to hear while he finds whatever it is he’s looking for.

While the work ethic is admirable, if anyone else did that they would be running on empty by the time they got to the weekend – and unable to produce whatever they found in that late-night grind session anyway. But Bryson seems to know himself and to know what is necessary for him to be at his best.

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Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson take very different approaches to the same game

Dustin Johnson, I would suggest, knows that about himself just as well as Bryson does. His levels of analysis might seem to be non-existent (or at least heavily delegated), but that is one of the things that allows him to be the best player in the world. If he tried to do things the way Bryson does them, I’m pretty sure he’d be off the course and driving away in something fast before nine holes were up. But the more I watch and listen to Dustin Johnson, the more respect I have for him for being aware of that. He probably works harder than any of us appreciate, but he never tries to be something he isn’t comfortable with.

Interestingly, I think one of the best golfers in the world who is still trying to figure out where he lies on that spectrum is Rory McIlroy. At his best, Rory is fearless, bold and all-conquering. The balance of power and artistry in his game is breathtaking. But Rory is also reflective. From the outside, it looks like he thinks about golf, and his own golf, a lot (I can relate). And it looks like that can be to his detriment. If he could only get out of his head, he’d double his Major tally without breaking a sweat. But getting out of your own head is easier said than done, especially once you’ve seen what’s inside. Being in your own head can be your biggest asset, as Bryson is proving. But how do you strike that mental balance if you don’t have Bryson’s single-mindedness stamina?

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Rory recently admitted causing his own swing problems by trying to chase Bryson’s speed gains. In contrast, Dustin Johnson said he’d tried the same thing and realised he wasn’t really bothered; he knew he didn’t need it. The two stories are perhaps more telling than one would think. It often feels like Rory is constantly searching for something and that’s his way of trying to be the best in the world. To never stop looking. And that’s the beauty of golf – there is always something you can do better – but it can also be its downfall. If you’re always looking, you’re never satisfied – and if you’re never satisfied, how do you not have doubts?

So what really is golf IQ? While it may encompass many skills and intuitions, I think its most simple form may be this: knowing what is right for you. And trusting it.

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