Why golfers have the best memory retention

Psychologist claims it's the nature of the sport that helps us remember the good, the bad and the ugly


Posted: 19 June 2013
by Bob Warters

Are memories made of this?
Els remembers every shot from Muirfield 2002
Luke Donald struggles to remember stuff outside golf

A psychologist claims that golfers can remember 'astonishing detail' and among professional sportsmen and women have the best memories.

Dr Joel Fish, director of the Centre for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia, which hosted the US Open last week, says it's a combination of a golfer's visualisation techniques and the uniqueness of each shot that contributes to their acute memories.

"Each shot is filed away into the memory banks to be accessed for future reference when they are faced with a similar situation, " he says.

"Golfers can remember significantly more, often in astonishing detail, compared to athletes from other sports. They are helped to remember because each shot is unique, whether distance, approach, wind speed or slope."

Dr Fish says that one of the key reasons for a golfer's memory retention is because we have time to consider how to play shot, unlike many other sports where we have to make an instant decisions.

Speaking at Merion, South African Ernie Els, with four majors to his name, supports the doctor's claims.

"In the majors, I really remember my wins. I remember almost every shot," he says.

Luke Donald, however, said there are things outside golf that he struggles to remember. But in golf it's completely different.

"It doesn’t take me long to remember things I've done and shots I've played."

Matt Kuchar, however, doesn't agree.

“I just try to play the shot in front of me. I’m much more in the present than the past."

And Jerry Kelly says that under pressure golfers can quickly reveal their shortcomings: "You go through so many processes in your head, you can tend to forget about one key bit of information that could have saved a shot."

For amateur club golfers, memory retention can be selective. We often tend to remember the good shots - at the risk of becoming a bore - and quickly forget the bad ones.

In my experience over 40 years I've watched golfers' eyes glaze over as a colleague  recalls in excruciating detail a shot - or even a round he's played.

Golfers - particularly professional golfers - need their memory to help eradicate mistakes and to act on their coach's instructions.

For amateurs it's different. Maybe it's best to play just one shot at a time - and forget what's gone before.

Tell us on the forum about a key shot you will always remember - and one you can't wait to forget...


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