What Great British Baking Show has Taught Me About Golf
The big tent in the middle of the English countryside is back in my life. Paul Hollywood is roaming around, hands jammed deep in his pockets trying not to explode from all the carbs he’s eating each day. Pru is rocking bright glasses and ridiculous necklaces while using the word “lovely” like a pro.
The show is a warm blanket and cup of tea as Boston sits on the threshold of winter.
As we have been watching the latest season, it struck me that The Great British Baking Show, viewed through the proper lens, can actually help golfers with their mental game.
Stick with me here.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading about the mental side of golf from the perspective of Dr. Bob Winters, who I was lucky enough to interview for my podcast. One of Dr. Bob’s major points is that golfers cannot and should not worry about the expectations and opinions of others as they play their round. It’s a waste of energy to focus on your playing partners or rules officials or gallery or the group behind you waiting for you to hit or the group behind you that’s playing at a 5 hour pace.
Understanding how you play the game and being comfortable with that is 90% of the journey to playing good shots. As soon as a player tries to play like someone else, or worries about how far a competitor hits it or how good they are around the green or how much lower their score is after three holes they’re doomed.
Players also can’t think about their final score after four holes or the opening tee shot, the only thing in their control is the shot they have to his hit in the present moment. The last shot is gone and the next shot is coming soon.
Mental golf is a skill.
Last week I was in Texas and had the privilege of watching Rose Zhang compete in the Spirit International, the Stanford freshman and number 1 women’s amateur in the world. She won all three of her college tournaments this fall and also won The Spirit.
Before the camera clicked on for Zhang’s post-round interview following the first two rounds the interviewer asked Zhang what she shot. Both times she sheepishly rolled her eyes back as she tried to recall her score, but she couldn’t. At this point, she had checked her score and signed her card already. Most golfers would be mulling over the round, lamenting the shots they “left on the course.”
Not Zhang. She played her round, and she was done with it.
Zhang, while sitting on a three-shot lead before the final round, said she has no expectations when she plays golf. She just tries hard on every single shot and all she wants to do is walk off the course without any regrets.
The only time she feels regret is if she feels like she doesn’t try her best and isn’t focused on every shot. If she does those two things, then the score is the score, she’s going to let everyone else worry about her score.
It’s a staggering attitude for an 18-year-old to have. It’s a staggering skill for anyone to have.
Zhang shot 68 and 69 during her first two rounds. If she can’t count such small numbers on her card, imagine all the brainpower most golfers use during a round worrying about breaking 100, 90, or 80. If anyone should remember their score it’s someone shooting such low scores.
Dr. Bob would say that Rose commits 100% to her shot and then worries about the next shot when it arrived. She’s always in the present, even after her round she’s in the present. The round is done. The card is signed. When is lunch?
On The Great British Baking Show, each baker has their own bench to work their magic. They are in their own space, they have their own ingredients, and they have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, they each have to produce something similar at the end of a set amount of time.
These expectations are similar to a round of golf. Golfers play 18 holes. They produce a score. But each golfer plays those 18 holes differently.
At the end, the judges try the food. While that part is more subjective, the judges aren’t judging the specific steps the baker took to final the final product, they are just judging the final result. They might be able to make assumptions about a misstep a baker took during the process.
Just like steps in a baking recipe, there are holes on a golf course. Each step in a recipe or hole on a golf course come together to create that final product.
Every baker in the tent has their own personality. Some are tidy, some are messy, some are calm, some are frantic.
No matter their personality, the most successful bakers on The Great British Baking Show are focused on their current step and what the result of that single step will produce. They home in on their own space in the tent. They don’t focus on what the final product will be, or what their opponents are doing. They know that every step in the process just needs to be done with focus and their baked good will be delicious when it comes time to be judged.
The anxious, less confident bakers are looking around the tent, taking cues from other bakers without any context of who their opponent reached that point. They doubt the temperature of the oven or second-guess the practice they did during the week. They worry about the final product instead of mixing the dough. They overcomplicate things and worry about what the judges will think when they taste their food.
While many golfers are staring the end of the season firmly in the face, players can practice their mental game. Read a book, sit for 2-3 minutes a day and picture the best shots you hit this past season, go to a simulator and hit balls with a specific routine to build in a singular focus and commitment on each shot.
Or just take up baking for a few months and focus on each step with committment and focus.