Brain-work Made Her Golf Champion
Winning a national golf title takes more than mechanical skill, stamina and mental control. Luck is sometimes a factor but, more often, it is applied psychology that tips the balance. At least, that has been the experience of Ada MacKenzie—and her experience includes the Canadian open championship.
DOROTHY G. BELL
THE small, slim, black-haired girl was about to adjourn the director’s meeting of the Toronto Women’s Golf Club, when one of the directors rose in her place.
“You are looking very tired,” she said, “and we have decided that you must have a holiday. We want you to go to Ottawa and play for the Canadian golf championship.”
A weary wistfulness came over the girl’s face—a face almost childish in its smallness. “I’m afraid I’m too busy for a holiday just now and you know I have not had time to practise for weeks.”
“We’ll manage somehow without you and we don’t mind how you play,” persisted the director. “We want you to get a train for Ottawa to-night.”
The next morning as the girl stepped out on the Ottawa links she looked smaller and slimmer than ever in her white things but as she moved across the course there was about her a sinewy litheness
that gave length to her drives, and she walked with a swinging stride that shortened amazingly the distances between her strokes. Two weeks later she came back to her club, Canadian Open Champion, hers, the only Canadian name to be blazoned across the shiny surface of her new trophy.
Golf and Psychology
THE story of that match between Ada MacKenzie and Alexa Stirling Fraser for the Canadian championship has been told and retold across Canada. The inside story is the story of the psychological study, the mental conflict that actually won the match is not quite as familiar.
The first eighteen holes were played that morning, slowly, steadily. The game was devoid of brilliancy. Both women were playing safe and at the end of the morning the game was all square. They went to the clubhouse to change, to rest and to have lunch, and it was then that Ada MacKenzie won the match. As she laughed and chatted over the luncheon table she was thinking, working.
The Saturday before the match Alexa Fraser had beaten her in a friendly game and, until this day, had been acknowledged the better player. But, to-day, the better player was conserving her game, playing safe. In the corresponding steadiness of her opponent she was finding something to consider—perhaps, even to fear. Thus the champion-to-be reasoned. Then Ada MacKenzie decided that there was but one thing to do—to fan that possible fear into a cyclone of surprise and doubt and, working out the psychological effect of this on her opponent, she laid her silent plans there at the lunch table. Then—afternoon and the time for action.
Taking the honor, she drove off and with that first drive discretion went to the winds that whispered down the course. Her preliminary eighteen holes had given her the courage to abandon safety. Every shot she played for brilliancy, every shot achieved the desired effect. It was the psychological effect of those shots upon her opponent which gave the championship to the Toronto girl. Her utter lack of fear demoralized the other’s game.
Psychology, in the opinion of this feminine Canadian champion, is the greatest factor in golf, and to prove how rapidly and completely these psychological effects can win or lose a game for a player she tells of an experience which happened to her not long ago on a Toronto course.
A match in which Miss MacKenzie was playing was going very badly against her opponent and there was no doubt in the minds of both players but that the game was hers. Then as the other player topped her ball Miss MacKenzie found herself saying, “I’m awfully sorry.” A little later with the next poor stroke she exclaimed again, “What hard luck!” Then suddenly Miss MacKenzie’s own morale broke down under the genuine concern over her opponent’s game and she lost the tension necessary to her own good play. The recognition of that sincerity bucked up her opponent’s game. The other player won!
Golf being an essentially mental game there are many other and easier ways of winning matches than playing a mechanically perfect game, if one is mean enough to take advantage of them, and one of the most difficult to combat is mental suggestion. Even a player of Miss MacKenzie’s standard can become a victim to it.
Once, a match depended on her final put for a win or a
lose and she approached it confidently. It was only a two foot put. As she judged the distance and was about to play, her opponent spoke.
“It’s yours, undoubtedly,” she said. “You can’t possibly miss that.”
Immediately there arose in the mind of the Canadian girl the doubt. Could she miss it? It was a possibility of which she had not thought before. She withheld her putter a few moments and walked aound the ball once or twice, trying to down the doubt. She could not. She putted and missed.
That was before Miss MacKenzie had learned the most valuable lesson in golf, the lesson that every golfer must know if he is to become a champion—concentration. With that lesson perfected and at her finger tips, a few years later she was able to cope successfully with a similar incident.
In a certain match she was playing she knew that the
heavy betting was against her. She was winning, when a man from the gallery which was following her, stepped close to her.
“You are playing well, Miss MacKenzie. You are playing very, very well.”
Miss MacKenzie caught at once in the remark the attempt to put her off her game, but she had learned her lesson. She did not turn her head to see who had spoken, and she gave no sign that she had even heard the words. Instead, she turned deliberately to the other side of the course and walked away quickly, concentrating thoroughly on her next shot in an effort to forget the remark. She succeeded and won her match.
Later in the clubhouse the man who had spoken apologized to her. “If you had not mentioned it I should never have thought of it again,” she told him, “for I made up my mind to forget it.”
Miss MacKenzie declares that concentration in golf means getting inside one’s own game to the exclusion of every single outside influence. Even after years of experience and scores of matches it is not an easy thing to do, but Miss MacKenzie declares that she learned her lesson in concentration in her first Canadian open championship match at Beaconsfield,Montreal, in 1919. Playing up the graded green towards the clubhouse she counted on the approach shot to give her the advantage she needed, but, as she swung, she lifted her eyes a moment too soon from the ball to the gallery, which watched her from above. Instead of driving her ball the distance she had intended she topped it. She was very much disturbed, but a minute later she was laughing, for an experienced golfer, witnessing the play and recognizing the cause of it, said to her: “If you must regard the gallery, Miss MacKenzie, regard them as cabbages. It helps amazingly.”
“I have never forgotten that advice,” said the Canadian champion, “and it does help—amazingly.”
A Good Loser
MISS MACKENZIE offers, as one of the best examples of concentration she knows of, the match in which she lost out against Helen Paget in the Canadian closed championship finals at Ottawa last year. The champion was acknowledged the better player and Miss Paget, knowing that, realized that she could not hope to beat her at her own game. So, the challenger made up her mind to concentrate solely on her own game. She did not allow Miss MacKenzie’s long shots or her brilliant Dlays to worry her, but went calmly on with her own play—so calmly, in fact, that she might almost have been playing alone. That concentration resulted in one of the most dramatic match conclusions that Canadian golf has ever known.
At the seventeenth hole Miss Paget’s ball sat on the lip of the cup. Miss MacKenzie had an eight foot put to make. With that put lay two alternatives. One was to play safe, secure a half and keep the match going. The other was to play for brilliancy and win or lose. The latter seemed to her the sporting chance. She took it. The green was fast and sloping. If she gave her ball speed it would run over. It must carry weight without speed and cut accurately. She made the put deliberately. It rolled to within half an inch of the cup, died, and turning a hair’s breadth with the cut she had given it, touched the other ball, dropping it into the cup. She won the game— for her opponent!
“That match was taken from me by my opponent’s ability to concentrate on her own game,” was Miss MacKenzie’s sportsmanlike admission.
And concentration, according to the champion, must begin before a match. It must take the form of preparedness—always—against unseen emergencies. Lack of preparedness, Miss MacKenzie admits, constituted the greatest mistake of her golf career, and there is not a doubt in the minds of American authorities but that it lost her the American national championship at St. Louis last year.
Because it was a particularly hot day Miss MacKenzie went out to meet Glenna Collett, clad in a thin knitted suit and light rubber-soled shoes instead of her accustomed tweeds and spiked shoes. She started out well, and up to a point where the beautiful sunny afternoon was shattered in a blast of rain, wind and thunder, she was leading, two up. The rain descended in torrents, soaking both players to the skin, but they played on. Presently the Canadian girl's knitted skirt, heavy with water, began to sag and stretch until finally it clung about her ankles. She hitched it up, but it continued to hamper. The sleeves of her light coat fell below her wrists. She rolled them up but they slipped again and again. Then her rubber soles failed to grip the drenched turf and she found that, literally, she had not ‘a leg to stand on.” She sent to the clubhouse for hob-nailed shoes but meanwhile the match proceeded and she lost the next three holes, taking a terrible eight on the fifteenth. Halves on the last two left Miss Collett one up.
“I wasted an opportunity I may never get again,” declared Miss MacKenzie, “and I wasted it through carelessness. I took chances with the elements I had no right to take. I learned my lesson, however—a severe one—and I will never play unprepared again.”
IF AN artist suddenly plunges his fist through his masterpiece because he is unable to get exactly the right finishing touch to please him, we stand back in awestruck admiration of the temperament which caused the drastic act; if a musician bursts into tears and refuses to sing or play because her feelings have been hurt, she is forgiven because we expect and appreciate temperament in art. But if a golfer suddenly kicks his ball off the tee, snaps his club across his knee and refuses to play because he is unable to achieve exactly the cut he wants or because his opponent has hurt his feelings, we gasp in horror at the display of poor sportsmanship and there would be no forgiveness, for temperament in golf is neither expected nor tolerated. Yet we have it on authority of Canada’s feminine champion that temperament plays a bigger part in
golf than almost any other factor. It is the high-strung nerves, the mental sensitiveness, the moral courage of temperament that makes for good golf.
“Are you nervous?” asked one of her friends once as she went from the club house to face a stiff match.
“Not the least little bit in the world,” she replied dully.
“Why, how perfectly wonderful!”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Miss MacKenzie. “Heart-breaking! It means I shall play my worst golf.” When this champion is so nervous, so excited that she cannot take a ball from the cub steadily, she plays her best game. When she is unable to key herself up, when she is without enthusiasm, she is off her game.
Pick a day when the champion is particularly temperamental and perhaps you can beat her! Yet Miss MacKenzie does not like to call it temperament—rather she terms it “under-estimation of an opponent.” The thing she admires most about Cecil Leitch is the latter’s ability never to underestimate another player.
Just how much one is dependent upon oneself in the one-man game of golf is emphasized by a little incident which occurred when Miss MacKenzie was playing in the British open championship at Turnbury, Scotland. It was a very windy day and she was about to play her last hole. Walking up to her ball she decided that it was a mashie shot but as she neared it her caddy, a keen lad who had been with her throughout the whole tournament and who knew her game, pulled her jigger half way out of the bag.
“Tommy, the wind isn’t that strong, is it?” she asked.
“It’s pretty stiff, Miss,” answered the boy. Miss MacKenzie allowed herself to be influenced by the lad’s judgment, which had always been good. She hesitated a moment and then took the jigger. With her mind still playing with the idea of a mashie shot she swung her club. The ball soared and overran the green. Her opponent, playing practically the same shot with her mashie. sank her ball with accuracy
“It was just another lesson,” she said, “and from that moment I decided that I would always stick to my own judgment rather than accept anyone else’s, even if it were better.”
But experience comes slowly to every champion and it is Miss MacKenzie’s contention that every good golfer must begin to play as a child in order to get the easy, natural swing and style. She began the game herself at the early age of ten years and played with her father and mother. She took very little interest in it at that time, until one day on the course she overheard someone say: “That kid’s got some good strokes.” It rather pleased her and she began from that moment to ; play a little more seriously.
An Early Beginning
AT THE age of thirteen she was playing so well that she was able to substitute for her mother in a mixed foursome match and played an exceptional game.
In 1912 she played her first match against Dorothy Campbell Hurd in the Canadian open championship and, though she expected to be badly beaten, she played over her head and took her opponent to the nineteenth hole. With this achievement to her credit she slumped for two years. Though she came in contact with many champions and good players, she was beaten time after time, and made practically no headway.
Then, through study of psychology, | concentration, nerve control, her game became brilliant. To-day from the topmost rung of feminine Canadian golfdom she informs us that golf is a serious business, but tells us in the same breath that it should not be played as a business:
“To those who play day in and day out whether they feel like it or not; to those who play because they feel they | ought to have the practise, golf is not the spontaneous joy-giving game that it ought to be. To get the most amount of joy out of it one must play it as a pleasure, a relaxation, with a keen amount of study.”
Miss MacKenzie believes that golf suffers from other games, and that to play it well one ought to play nothing else. She was at one time a keen tennis player and the winner of many trophies, but she discovered that tennis was gradually overdeveloping the muscle of her right forej arm and throwing her off her golf stroke. She gave it up. The only other athletic j pleasure she gives herself is skating. The same litheness, agility, strength and grace that make her golf what it is, add to her skating ability without hurting her game.
Miss MacKenzie’s chief interest in golf is—women. To further their interest last year she organized the first women’s golf club in Canada. On her own initiative she took out an option on the land in her own name, raised the money to meet it through prominent Toronto women, sold stock to three hundred members and saw the club house under construction within eight weeks of her decision to tackle the venture.
“Golf is an exceptionally fine game for , women because it is not too strenuous,” she says, “but they are handicapped at most clubs rather than encouraged. Many women who play golf are business women. Most of the clubs are a long way out of town and they can’t get there without a car. Saturdays and Sundays, possible days for them, are often reserved for men; the waiting lists are long. I waited five years for my membership | in one of the eastern Canadian clubs. It didn’t worry me much then because I was only a child but, by the time I was j allowed to enter it, I had made up my | mind that some day Canada should see a women’s club.” '
The story of the development of that idea, the race to finance it before the expiration of the option, is a story of interest, of determination, of courage—but another story.