Solheim Cup 2017: Why golfers love playing as a team
DES MOINES, Iowa — Watching the Solheim Cup isn’t like watching a normal women’s event. Obviously the small field of only Americans and Europeans make it different, but what really stands out is the team mentality that has taken over. The amount of smiles and cheers you see from players, the choreographed handshakes, the big celebrations, the noise, the easy-going nature of the group press conferences that are as full of jokes as they are quotes – it’s all about the team.
And it’s all very fun to watch, but these are individual athletes who have spent the vast majority of their lives functioning with that individual, take care of myself, mindset. You'd think the switch to being on a team would be a little difficult. But somehow, they effortlessly slip into the team mentality of the Solheim Cup, and thrive in it.
The Solheim Cup - Day Two
WEST DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 19: Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang of Team USA celebrate a birdie to win the third hole over Team Europe during the morning foursomes matches of the Solheim Cup at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club on August 19, 2017 in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
“I couldn’t have asked for better partners today,” said Danielle Kang, who won both her matches on Friday, becoming the fifth rookie to do so. “I got to play with my big sis [Michelle Wie] and we killed it out there, and we have such good chemistry. I played with Lizette [Salas], my long-time friend. And it was really fun playing alternate shots, having each other’s back.”
Salas felt the same way.
“I’ve been waiting six years for this,” said Salas of playing with Kang. “She picked me up when I was down. She had all the faith in the world in me. And that’s what a partner has to be, and I’m just so grateful and so proud of her.”
Salas got hot in the afternoon and made five birdies on the front nine of her match with Angel Yin. There was a moment, though, on what ended up being their last hole, where Salas was out.
“She said, ‘I need your help,’” Yin recalled. “I was like, ‘I got you. I got you.’”
The Solheim Cup - Day One
WEST DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 18: Anna Nordqvist of Team Europe speaks to Georgia Annika Sorenstam of Team Europe they leave the 14th tee during the morning foursomes matches of the Solheim Cup at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club on August 18, 2017 in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
There are dozens of such moments throughout the matches at the Solheim Cup.
The ease with which these individual athletes are able to become teammates is endearing and inspires the same camaraderie from the fans. The energetic atmosphere it creates is intoxicating.
But, on a psychological level, why isn’t it more difficult for these individual athletes to become teammates?
To figure this out, we talked to Dr. Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist who has worked with a number of PGA tour players, including Matt Kuchar and Davis Love III.
“Self-efficacy is the psychological term for what's commonly known as confidence," explains Dr. Valiante. “Golfers spend their lives having to derive their confidence from themselves. It's very very taxing to keep soliciting self- efficacy (because the game taxes it at every turn).”
When you’re playing by yourself and you hit a bad shot, you have to rely on your own ability to bounce back. At the Solheim Cup, your partner can be gritty for you in moments you’re feeling weak.
The Solheim Cup - Day Two
WEST DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 19: Paula Creamer of Team USA celebrates with playing partner Austin Ernst during the second day morning foursomes matches of The Solheim Cup at Des Moines Golf and Country Club on August 19, 2017 in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
“Team events provide an opportunity for collective efficacy, also known as group confidence," says Dr. Valiante. "We not only have others building our confidence, but we get to rely on others to absorb the negatives. The shared experience benefits both the upside and downside of confidence."
When something bad happens on the course, you don't have to deal with it on your own. Your partner can make you feel confident when you’re not feeling confident, and when you are feeling confident, they bolster it.
"Golfers really love team events for that reason,” says Dr. Valiante. “It's a psychological reprieve.”
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