Psychology professor (and golfer) Tom Dorsel writes a winner

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

If you’ve ever picked up a driver and hit a bucket of balls, or if you’ve ever played even a few holes on a hard-scrabble backwoods course, chances are you’ve read a golf instructional book.

If you’re a member of a club or league and compete regularly, you probably own a whole shelf of how-to-play-better books.

And why not? Check out Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com, and you’ll find books on gardening, cooking, training your dog, knitting, raising your kid, losing weight, etc. In short, whatever your passion is, there is a book telling you how to do it better.

After reading many instructional golf books in my lifetime (most are helpful at some level), I found a book recently that is truly different.

“Golf, The Mental Game” by Tom Dorsel, Ph.D. gives a new perspective on this very difficult, yet fascinating sport. The subtitle is “Thinking Your Way Around the Course.” Need I say more?

Tom is a professor of psychology at Frances Marion College and author of two other books, “The Putting Machine” and “The Complete Golfer.” A licensed clinical psychologist, Tom is a consultant for the Notre Dame athletic department and has appeared on ESPN and the Golf Channel numerous times. Besides all this, he has been a single-digit handicapper for most of his adult life, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Tom has been writing a monthly column for Golf Illustrated for more than 10 years, and his latest book is a compilation of those articles.

Despite his years in academia, the book is down to earth and easy to read. It offers many practical tips on how to improve your game through inner-thought processes. The advice includes practice techniques that will make the golfer better equipped mentally when it’s time to set foot on the first tee of a match or tournament.

After reading his latest book, I found it a real pleasure to speak with Tom at a Carolina Golf Reporters Association meeting in Charlotte last week.

“In golf, you must build a mental plan as well as a physical plan,” Tom said. “Many instructional books tell you how to swing the club. They talk of grip, elbows and wrists, or takeaway and follow-through, but neglect the mental aspects of the game.”

What about visualizing? Imagining the ball taking off and landing just where you want it to.

“That’s fine, but you need prior techniques to be able to visualize correctly,” he said. “Try aiming at a specific target when you’re at the practice range. Most ranges have flags, so aim at the flags, then add a challenge to it, like ‘I won’t leave until I hit 10 acceptable shots to the 100-yard marker.’”

Tom believes golfers should put stress on themselves during practice sessions if they want to improve their game.

“In other words, the golfer gets used to the challenge, and when he needs to hit a shot from 100 yards out, it will be easy because he’s done it so many times before. For example, a good way to improve your putting is to place a bunch of balls 5 feet away from the cup and then say, ‘I won’t go home until I sink 18 of these putts.’ The next time you’re in a tournament and need a 5-footer for the win, you’ll glide it right in.”

Tom’s book is filled with chapters that will benefit everyone, from the beginner to the experienced professional.

For example, Lesson 8 is called “Counting All Your Strokes—Keeping Accurate Score Improves Your Game.” In it, Tom states the typical amateur golfer doesn’t appreciate the difficulty of the game and cites numerous examples of high scores by PGA professionals. For example, in the last Ryder Cup at Kiawah’s Ocean Course, if the pros had been playing medal play, most of them would have shot in the 80’s.

Golf is a difficult game, Tom explains. The course can be exceedingly difficult, it may be unfamiliar, the weather may be a factor, your playing partners may be yakking away while playing social golf, and no one else may be playing by the rules.

That last one is a real no-no to Tom. Playing by the rules and keeping an accurate score is essential to the full enjoyment of the game. “If you always take the gimmie putt, you won’t be able to sink one when you need to.”

He sums it up with the following:

“If the game is so difficult and high scores make golfers so uneasy, why not refuse to keep score and just hit balls?”

“ee. We keep score because golf is a game, and games have scores. Of course, golf involves exercise and beautiful surroundings, but those benefits are similarly available from a hike in the woods, snow skiing or jogging. When you come in from a round, the guys around the pro shop don’t ask you how you feel, how much exercise you got, or did you enjoy all that beauty. No, they ask you what you shot! No score, no game, no golf.”

That’s how the whole book reads—practical advice with a touch of humor and many stories about famous golfers and their foibles and famous moments.

Many chapters provide lists of items to help your game. For example:

• The Nine R’s of Good Golf talks about Realism, Responsibility, Regularity, Relaxation, Routine, Repeatability, Rationality, Reinforcement, and Reliability.

• Four Things in Every Round that Determine Your Scores.

• Seven Ways to Build Confidence on the Course.

• Six Ways to Prevent Choking (I made special note of this one).

• Eight Secrets to Better Course Management.

• Seven Things You Can Do to Improve Scores and Lower Your Handicap.

I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Tom Dorsel. He’s a man who appreciates and understands the struggle to play better golf, or sometimes, just to maintain a decent game as we get older.

I’m trying some of his techniques this spring (I also have new clubs and am taking a series of lessons). Each day I go to the chipping area with a bunch of balls and try to get down in two.

That’s always been the worst part of my game: landing in front of the green in two on a par-four hole and then taking four or five shots to get into the cup. Instead of a par or bogey, I’m now looking at a double or triple bogey because I skulled, chili-dipped or three-putted.

Let’s see how Tom’s book works. I’ll report back at the end of the season.


The golf pro was driving his cart around the course when he spotted a woman he had never seen before. Wanting to meet the new member, he pulled the cart up next to her and noted a puzzled look on her face and asked her if anything was wrong.

“Well, this is the first time I’ve ever played golf and I just shot a 66,” the woman replied.

The pro was speechless. Finally he said, “That’s a wonderful score. You must be very proud.”

“Well, I’m hoping to do a little better on the next hole.”