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  • Alistair Tait

Go on, utter that expletive – it might help you play better

Seems there's finally good news for those of us known to occasionally utter a few mild expletives under our breath while playing this frustrating game. Evidence suggests dropping the occasional F-bomb can help us play better.

I have my doubts.

As reports, there's scientific evidence to back up the theory that swearing can help in adverse situations. And, let's face it, we've all experienced those in a round of golf. Sometimes several times if my round last Tuesday is anything to go by.

Keele University psychologist Richard Stevens conducted an experiment that proved swearing can increase pain threshold. The professor made people put their hands in ice-cold water, told them to swear, and it helped them cope with the pain.

Another experiment Stevens conducted with a colleague proved that dropping an F-bomb rather than a neutral word or two made up expletives increased pain threshold.

“While it is not properly understood how swear words gain their power, it has been suggested that swearing is learned during childhood and that aversive classical conditioning contributes to the emotionally arousing aspects of swear word use,” Stevens wrote.

I wonder if Stevens plays golf, because his findings don't gel with my experience. If his theory is correct, a plethora of golfers known for their explosive tempers would have won multiple majors. Hennie Otto immediately comes to mind. No player in recent years has done angry like Hennie. The South African once snapped all his clubs after an 80 in the Nashua Nedtel South African Masters at Wild Coast Country Club, put the pieces back in his golf bag and threw the lot off a bridge into a river.

Tommy Bolt would have won more than just one major, the 1958 U.S. Open. Bolt also won 15 PGA Tour titles, but he's better known for his explosive temper. He was known to throw the odd club or six.

"Always throw clubs ahead of you," Bolt said. "That way you don't have to waste energy going back to pick them up."

Surprisingly, Henry Longhurst, the doyen of golf commentary, was another advocate of club throwing: He once said:

"The most exquisite act in the world of golf is throwing a club.The full backswing, the delayed wrist action, the flowing follow through, followed by that unique whirring sound, reminiscent only of a flock of starlings, are without parallel in sport."

I've only really tossed one club in all my years of playing this game (the casually frustrated lob of the wedge back to the bag after yet another duff doesn't count). Many years ago, I threw a 2-iron which ended up in long rough – yet another pulled swing – and it took me 15 minutes to find it! Once was enough.

As for swearing, I hold my hands up. I'm not alone. Arguably no sport induces Tourette Syndrome like golf. As for it helping me play better, not in my experience. I agree with Horace Hutchison, who once said:

"If profanity had an influence on the flight of the ball, the game would be played far better than it is."

I'm not buying into this theory. The way I play, the air at Woburn Golf Club would be blue if I did. Especially last Tuesday.

However, it may work for you. Go on try it. Just mutter it under your breath instead of inflicting it on anyone else. If nothing else it might help you deal with the pain of yet another missed putt or horrible shot.

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