The Guinea Pig: the performer self

Mind coach Dr Karl Morris argues that golfers can benefit from taking on a role when they step on to the golf course. Matt Cooper explains.

Matt Cooper, golfer: a hacker playing off 15. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic golfer. Matt Cooper will be that golfer. Better than he was before. Longer, straighter, holing more putts.

Last week I discussed what Dr Karl Morris at the has to say about the “real self”.

Perhaps the most pertinent conclusions are that what you do on the golf course and who you are as a person are not the same thing: “you are more than the direction your golf ball takes.”

To help address this distinction Morris explains how the likes of Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson have a “performer self” in addition to their “real self”.

Perhaps the easiest way of understanding the concept is to consider the methods used by actors when they prepare for a new role.

They ask themselves a series of questions about their character: What qualities does this person possess? How would this person cope when faced with pressure? How would this person deal with success? How would they deal with failure?

Actors glean information about their role and then they become that character.

Sportsmen and women can use a similar technique to improve their performance, by asking those same questions of the sporting performer they want to be.

If your initial thought when reading this is a sceptical one, ask yourself this: how many times are you aware during, after or even before a round of golf that you have contrived to talk yourself into becoming a worse golfer than you know yourself to be?

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve done it plenty of times.

Either consciously or sub-consciously this conversation, or something like it, has effectively been played out in my mind.

“What qualities does this person (me) possess?”

“He’s got a good short game, but his long game and putting are flaky.”

“How would this person cope when faced with pressure?”


“How would this person deal with success?”

“With an element of surprise.”

“How would they deal with failure?”


Just like an actor, I have prepped myself for a role and I shouldn’t be entirely downbeat because my method acting is impeccable.

Unfortunately, darling, I have a yearning to play Harold Steptoe in a village hall instead of Tiger Woods at the RSC.

The stupid thing is that I’m not above using these techniques (in a beneficial manner) in other parts of my life; in fact I’d go so far as to say that I’m rather good at it under certain circumstances.

And it is also true, of course, that I don’t routinely troop onto the golf course primed to be an abject failure.

But I don’t do that often enough.

So I need to seek new roles, luvvie. I need to prove that I can play winners just as well as I can play losers.

My new role, therefore, needs to be a successful golfer: someone who has great focus, who possesses mental resilience, powerful concentration, who has an aura of mental toughness.

Morris refers to the Channel 4 documentary ‘Faking It’ which took members of the public out of their comfort zone and threw them into a role they appeared, at first glance, to be utterly unsuited and ill-equipped to take on.

Could a prim cellist fool a dance-floor of hard-core clubbers that she was a DJ?

Could a vicar flog a second-hand car?

Could a punk singer become the conductor of an orchestra?

And could a burger bar flipper fool Gordon Ramsay with his haute cuisine?

The answer to these questions was frequently a resounding “yes”.

In most cases there were initial nerves and hesitancy, but, once the participants had been given the assistance of experts, once they had grown to appreciate the task and throw off their wariness, the speed with which they took on their new role was astonishing.

To look at this in a more technical way, the reason why this concept works is that the process of trying on a new role utilises the unconscious mind, bypassing the critical factor of the conscious mind which says, “I can’t do that.”

In a golfing context it can work on a small level by taking on a role for just one shot – and, again, this is something I have done in the past without appreciating the value of the method.

I’ve executed the odd brilliant escape from around the green when doing an impression of Seve; I’ve then shrugged it off as a fluke when it was actually a smart bit of psychology.

You think the pros don’t do something similar? Johnny Miller did it to win his last professional title at Pebble Beach.

It was an extraordinary victory, claimed in 1994, seven years after his previous win, and coming some time after he had all but retired from the game to become an opinionated commentator.

Never the most confident putter he reached the final green in the lead and had an eight-foot putt to win the tournament.

“I can’t hole this,” he told himself as he stalked around the ball, “But Michael [his son] can.”

Michael lived up to his father’s expectations and dropped the putt.

Miller stepped away from competitive golf after that win, but the rest of us should heed his lesson.

There’s nothing wrong with taking on a role; to pretend you are a good putter for a day, then for two days, then for a week, then a month, until you stop pretending because you’ve become one.

Like so many of Morris’ lessons, this is about ridding ourselves of rigidly imposed limitations.

As he discussed when I first began the course – the brain can be re-wired; it can change and so can we.