Golf Brain: A Neuropsychological Study of Performance in Competition
Golf, as a sport, has been described by its masters as a mental game first and a technical skill second. Many players logged countless practice hours only to find suboptimal performance in tournaments; when it matters the most. I investigated the relationship between executive functioning specific to decision-making under anxious arousal and golfers’ performance under anxious arousal. I used a repeated measures design including variety of executive functioning tests to examine participants’ abilities. Participants were recruited from western Oregon including collegiate golfers and university students, and were grouped into non-golfers and golfer groups based on whether they played golf and self-reported a consistent ability to score below 80 on a golf course. A golf performance putting task that mimics tournament pressure, “Tornado task,” was the initial task. Heartrate and skin conductance data were gathered during the Tornado task and executive functioning tasks. Results showed differences between golfer and non-golfers in their physiological arousal during risk-reward decisions. The IGT-2, Color-Word, and Tower Test executive functioning measures yielded similar arousal levels between groups. Self-reported anxiety on performance did not equate with greater physiological arousal during executive functioning tasks. RMSSD appears to be a more accurate measure of physiological arousal under pressure than EDA. It is likely that golfers have more training in managing sympathetic arousal in competition, are more accustomed to risk reward situations, and take greater risks in the presence of physiological arousal. I found golfers experience less anxious arousal while taking executive functioning tasks, and take more risks in decision-making decisions yet do not outperform non-golfers. Golfers were able to manage their nervous system arousal more effectively than non-golfers.