James Magazine Mar Apr 2020 - Page 52



hy do people do the things they do? As
a psychologist, this has been the most
basic question of my professional life.
Early on, focusing on common human problems such as anxiety and depression, my interest was in
the things that keep people from achieving their goals.
As I matured and began working with people who had
achieved extraordinary successes, my focus shifted from
people’s negative aspects to
the more positive. What was it
that successful people did
that allowed them to accomplish so much often in short
periods of time?
To answer this question, I
only had to look at one of the
greatest men I have ever
known: my own grandfather—
golfing great Bobby Jones.
This essay will review what
he accomplished and will pick
one skill set, goal setting, to
show how having a clearly
defined target helped him
reach the rarified levels of athletic excellence. In doing this,
I hope to give you a framework to achieve your dreams
and aspirations.
Bobby Jones was born in
Atlanta in 1902. He took up
golf as a little boy. He quickly
excelled, breaking 80 at East Lake when he was ten. He
won the first Georgia State Amateur at the age of 14.
Beginning in 1923 until 1930, he dominated the game of
golf as no one has until, perhaps, Tiger Woods. From the
time he won the United States Open in 1923 until his
retirement from competitive golf in 1930, his record was
peerless. Over that eight-year stretch, he won 13 major
championships: Four U.S. Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, three
British Opens, and one British Amateur. He was the first in
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MARCH/APRIL 2020
history to win both Opens, British and U.S., in the same
year. In 1930, he achieved a feat so incredible that it took a
few weeks before it could be named: The Grand Slam— all
four major championships in the same calendar year.
How did he do so much in such a short period of time?
Unbelievable natural talent certainly played a part. Having
a great teacher to copy in Stewart Maiden and, later,
Douglas Edgar certainly helped. Yet, Bobby Jones or “Bub,”
as we called him in the family,
drew on psychological techniques that helped him in his
golf. He was probably not consciously aware of these, but a
careful reading of his writings
combined with the recollections of those who knew him
best, reveal a highly sophisticated psychological approach
that developed by trial and
error. At the center was his
remarkable ability to set and
attain meaningful goals.
First, Bub always had a
specific goal that was above
his current ability but still
within reach, a “110 percent
goal,” an objective that made
him stretch beyond his current
level. Initially, it was a goal to
play in national championships. Then, once achieved,
it was his goal to win one.
Parenthetically, one of the most common problems that I
see with the athletes in my practice is a tendency to set
goals that far exceed their current performance level. Not
only does this confuse strategy with tactics, it sets the
individual up for both frustration and an unnecessary
increase in anxiety. It is also why so many of our New
Year’s resolutions end up being nothing more than the
“to-do list” for the first ten days of January.
Second, Bub’s goals were always open-ended, or
written in pencil, so that he could easily modify them
and never hem him in. This is directly opposite to how
most people set their goals. In
addition to setting the bar too
high, most people also set a
hard-stop line that inhibits their
achievement. An example is the
person who sets the goal of
playing collegiate tennis or qualifying for a particular tournament. Without an open-ended
goal, there is no place left to go
psychologically— and performance often suffers.
Bobby Jones’ record shows a totally different
approach. Always re-examining his goals, following his
victory in the 1925 U.S. Amateur, Bub was on the train
to Atlanta with his friend sportswriter O.B. Keeler. He
had just won his third U.S. national championship in
three years and he mused: “You know, O.B., if I were to
win a U.S.G.A. championship every year until 1930,
that would be a pretty strong record, don’t you think?”
At that moment, he had mentally erased his former
objective, replacing it with a new one that lay well
within his capacities. He would repeat the process
again in 1926. After winning the U.S. Open, becoming
the first man to win “The Double” (both the U.S. Open
and the British Open in the same year), he realized
that he could do the unthinkable— winning all four
majors in the same year. He believed that 1930 would
be the year to do it.
There was one more piece to the puzzle that was
every bit as important as these first two. Bub was
extremely cautious with whom he shared his aspirations.
After determining what he wanted to do, he only spoke
about it with my grandmother and his parents, otherwise
telling no one else. Why? There are always more people
who will tell you the reasons you can’t do something than
will support you in actually doing it. If your strategy is to
win every major championship in your sport, that is
unbelievably audacious and there are uncountable obstacles to obstruct your path. If Bub allowed these doubts to
gain a foothold in his mind, he would be regarded today
as a mere footnote in golf history, a sepia picture faded
into the memory of time.
In 1930, Bobby Jones achieved the unimaginable,
winning everything that he could win in the world of golf.
We remember that legacy every April, when the Masters
is played at the club he founded, the Augusta National,
on the course he co-designed. In August, his legacy
returns to the golfing world’s attention when the Tour
Championship comes to East Lake Golf Club where he
learned to play. Each in their own way are a testimony to
his athletic achievement and the psychological processes
that allowed them to blossom in my grandfather, one of
the most incredible men that I have known.
Bob Jones IV is a noted sport psychologist and speaker. You can reach
him at the Behavioral Institute of Atlanta at bjones@bia1.com.
MARCH/APRIL 2020
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