When you grow up in Maine, like I did, you grow up a Boston Red Sox fan. The first signed baseball I ever got was from Ted Williams, and I still have it! After suffering 86 years without a World Series win, the Red Sox broke through in 2004 and again in 2007. When the Red Sox won yet another World Series this last October, I finally figured out the difference between all those empty years and the three championships in the last decade: The Sox players have the skills of major leaguers, of course, but they play the game like little leaguers! No, I don't mean the right fielder stands around picking his nose! They have fun.
It was obvious that the 2013 team of "Beards" were not playing for their individual stats, but rather for their teammates, and the whole became greater than the sum of the parts. Throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox consistently looked like they were having more fun than every team they faced. Their opponents were playing to win the World Series, and that affected their ability to perform under stress. The Red Sox were playing for the enjoyment and beauty of the game, and that's a big reason why the team got the clutch hits when they needed them most.
For years I have used the phrase "work like a major leaguer but play like a little leaguer" to explain to the PGA Tour pros I work with the difference between practice and play. Make the effort and commitment both to your practice routine and to your teacher in order to develop your skills at an elite level — and then, when it's time to play competitively, let go and simply have fun.
Some say it's a catch-22, because anyone who's playing well looks like he or she is having fun. While there's something to that, the truth is that having fun leads to playing well. Look at it this way: You can't guarantee that you'll play well, but you can guarantee that you'll have fun. If you're on the course and make a boneheaded swing or decision that leads to a triple-bogey, remind yourself that some day it will be funny. So make it funny now. Laugh it off and move on to the next hole. Remember: Golf is a game, and games are meant to be fun.
Like baseball, golf is difficult, so it's important to enjoy yourself, because you won't make a great swing every time. In baseball, three hits in 10 makes you exceptional. For recreational golfers, if you "bat" .300 with your golf swing, you're a fairly good player. But expecting to hit .700 or .800 in golf only sets you up for disappointment (not to mention stress and tension).
Along with having fun, try to be more positive. Take Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli. He set a team record for most strikeouts in a season last year, but he never went to the plate trying to not strike out. Instead, he tried to put the bat on the ball with good swings, and as a result he had some big hits in the playoffs. He focused on what he wanted (good contact), not what he didn't want (a strikeout). In golf, you must remain positive, trust your instincts, and never try to not do something.
Have fun? Stay positive? Not exactly revolutionary concepts, but they work!