Style Identification is Better than a 15th Club in Your Bag

You can’t leave home without your behavior style.

You can’t go home without it either.

It was there when you started. It will be there when you finish. What may not be so apparent is that it has been speaking to us in golf forever. But it hasn’t gotten much of a hearing. We tend to get hooked on its “second cousin:” – the notion of “personality.”

Behavior style refers to how doing what we do is channeled and anchored: how we work and play, how we approach others, and how we manage ourselves. Each of us owns our own version and set of behaviors. They influence everything we do, feed into our self-image, strongly affect how others perceive us and how we see them. Style forms the essential framework which finally sponsors what we broadly identify as “personality.” Style is not the same as personality, however.

Because personality is a more “surface” issue, we see it more quickly and easily. Personality is for “show” and style is for “dough.” When we have that straight, we can entertain the advantages to be found in recognizing and understanding behavior style.

Style is a “given.” Personality is acquired – learned. The four primary behavior styles describe the basic similarities and dissimilarities of human movement in orderly, predictable ways. We use personality descriptions to explain and summarize differences in people.

We aren’t apt to meet any two or more people with exactly the same personality. But we will often find people of similar style, sharing traits and characteristics of bearing and action.

People who share a style with us may appear different if they are only observed from a “personality” viewpoint. Anytime a person is viewed and understood from the perspective that style offers, the similarities of their patterns of behavior are more evident. People of different styles have sometimes learned similar personality traits. When that happens, they may unwittingly convince others (and themselves) that they are different from what they really are.

Our personalities certainly affect how others respond to what we do and how much endorsement they are willing to give us, but they have little to do with the dexterity of skill available for any given technical or people-related task. Style feeds directly into the way in which we go about our work and interpersonal contacts. Personality is the individualized “twist” each of us adds to our style. It does not change the underlying style, but it does alter what is visible to others. Personality is the ingredient that “softens” or “hardens” the way style is perceived.

It is a familiar sound to hear TV commentators describe how and why players get into the situations they do and what happened on a shot that went awry. Invariably, their comments spring from the way they perceive their own styles, with rarely a hint of recognition of the style of the player in question. It’s as though they assume there is but one style by which the game is properly played – a very specialized “golfing style,” we suppose – and that players who expect to be “good” will necessarily adopt that “style,” if they are to succeed.

Style delivers our core “messages.” Personality adds tone, volume and intensity to those “messages.” For instance, in style, Lanny Wadkins and Ken Green “show” the same, but in personality they come across differently.

Chi Chi and Doug Sanders share the same style. They are both very expressive, emotional and have highly individualistic swing characteristics. Their differences in personality show up in things like Doug’s clothes and Chi Chi’s “sabre,” in Chi Chi’s love for children and in Doug’s love for the “ladies.” Their “flair” and “people orientation” are style characteristics. Their personalities are reflected in their varied choice of “subjects” or “objects.”

We’ve heard criticism leveled at Curtis Strange for being unduly “sensitive” to the sounds of clicking cameras and snapping umbrellas, as though he were possessed of a “personality quirk.” His reactions to those sounds, however, are more likely normal style traits that he tends to overextend when trying to play in a style he doesn’t understand.

To listen to the reports, one would believe that Scott Simpson is the quintessential “plodder.” When the reporters mention this “fact,” it is as though they can’t believe he’s as good as he is. They talk as though he is some kind of exception to an unwritten rule that says “Plodders are not supposed to play as well as he does,” or as if he represents too much of a departure from the “one true golfing style.” Mike Reid catches the same kind of flack.

Actually, Scott and Mike are simply excellent examples of the primary behavior traits of the style group to which both belong. The undercurrents of comment on TV say that there’s just a little skepticism, if not disdain, aimed at those whose quieter, more methodical styles. The media think they don’t make “exciting” press. Justin Leonard has more recently come into prominence from within this group.

Behavior style is “original equipment, factory installed.” Personality is “an add-on,” an “extra” emerging gradually as we carry our styles across time and space, along life-paths, taking our licks, being pushed and shoved and having “experiences.”

We bring style tendencies with us when we “arrive” in this world. They come with the territory. They stay with us till we check out. Our styles may get bent out of shape by any or all of the eventualities we encounter, but they remain with us nonetheless. Values, perceptions and all those other things are shaped as we move along. They tend to change of their own accord over the seasons of our lives. Such changes may be mistaken for changes in style, which is not the case. What we are most apt to observe are changes in personality, which may “hide” style, make it less visible, but won’t remove it or alter its basic shape.

The good news is that there is no evidence of any need whatsoever for anyone to change styles. The bad news is that there are a lot of misconceptions, half-truths, myths and beliefs that stampede the notion that one style can produce a result that another cannot and that some styles “behave” better than others. Different styles only move toward the same results in different ways. “Better” is no more than a value judgment.

We need to discover that in golf, any style is capable of shooting “lights out,” so long as the player paces his/her own style and plays from well-constructed habits on an automatic path. Anything done within one’s style automatically conserves time and energy, and reduces stress.

Everything we do and say is reflected through our styles. Most golfers spend the bulk of their “practice” time imitating a style they would “like to have.” That is generally like some other admired player. Many a round is spent struggling with the conflict between who they are and who they’d like to be. Imitating someone else during practice may seem reasonable, but it does not transfer well to the golf course.

Our point, of course, is that it is unhandy, if not futile, to jerk our styles around, but highly important to understand them. That will let us actively and consciously PACE them, which is what we suspect most players are trying to describe when they talk about “having patience.” Patience, by the way, has as many speeds as there are people.

It is not “illegal” to try to play the game according to personality, but that will only work to the extent that personality is a well integrated reflection of individual style. If it’s a composite of yours and other’s, which is, more often than not, the case, it is predictable that at some point in a round, you will “shoot yourself in the foot,” trying to play by it, particularly under pressure. Personality is primarily in “the supporting cast” for relating to and communicating with others. Style is the vehicle for action and getting the job done.

Each of the four behavior styles characteristically and noticeably plays golf differently, each in its own distinctive way. None of the four typically plays like any of the others. They may try, but it is very stressful and tends to be self-defeating.

A major reason so many players complain of not being able “consistently to get their games from the practice tee to the golf course,” is that they tend to practice and develop habits around a style that is not their own. Then, with no more than the normal pressure invoked by walking on the first tee, nature directs them totally toward their style and they can’t find the abstract entity they were building. It was “filed” on the practice tee under someone else’s name, rank and serial number. That leads to confusion or disorientation on the course, and the wheels come off. We all know the story after that.

Accurate style awareness provides multiple advantages. It keeps us from being victimized or upset by misperceptions of our own strengths. It allows faster recovery when we encounter an exceptional situation. An occasional poor shot can happen even when a player is “on a roll.” It provides a frame of reference in which to build effective habits that are compatible with our strengths, which is the kingpin of the ability to make an undisturbed transfer of skills to the course.

When you know your style, you are able to know the difference between your game and someone else’s. With that awareness in hand, you are less likely to be influenced or upset by those differences. In addition, when you build your game inside your style, the natural integrity, inherent among your resources, balances your actions and thoughts, releasing them through your style, even under pressure.

When players know and understand their own styles, their effectiveness (and the result) will be greater than if they simply are left to whatever their styles produce. And styles WILL produce, with or without awareness. Personality may be stimulating, but it is not a producer. It is a spark, not the fire. It is a sound of thunder, not the lightning.

That’s the way the system works. If your mind is telling your body to go one way and your style goes another, it is not difficult to figure out what kind of result is apt to show up.

If part of my game rests in my own style, part is taken from Geiberger’s, part from Hogan’s and the rest borrowed from that of my instructor, the chances for a good result are minimized. No matter that Geiberger and Hogan are two of the finest that ever played the game, or that my instructor may be the acclaimed “top gun.”. If their styles are different from mine, I need to understand that. And if my instuctor is listening, he or she needs desperately to know and understand how that works. Many an instructor has left a student lying in a bed of the instructor’s style, with both wondering why the student has such trouble with improvement.

Only when my game is formed completely around my style are my opportunities fully charged. That does not mean that I cannot learn from others of different style, or admire them greatly. What I must do is know how to adapt that learning to the strengths in my own style and separate between admiration and copying. It would help further if my teachers, coaches and friends knew how that worked, too.

The solitary nature of golf requires that we honor our own styles and stay “within them,” for best results. Behavior style affords the clearest, most reliable definition available for what it means to “play the game within yourself.” It follows the rules, not the exceptions. But that will only happen to the extent that we can measure and understand the styles we own, If we do not, we will likely be left with default – whatever the system allows and decides, and that is not necessarily what gets us what we want or where we want to go.

As creatures of comfort, we are all inclined to seek our contentment by continuing to do what we’ve always done in the ways we have always done it. Clearly, since we’ve had little or no opportunity to visualize anything else, it is not likely that we will rush toward a new dimension, no matter how much it promises. It is there, nonetheless, documented and validated, for those who want it.

It will go on being hidden from and useless to those who don’t.

You don’t have to buy the fifteenth club. You already own it, but it’s hard to play it while it’s still in the shipping carton.

Which Style Are You?