Traits of a Champion Golfer

In their 1999 publication The 8 Traits of Champion Golfers: How to develop the mental game of a Pro, Dr. Deborah Graham and Jon Stabler attempt to identify and explain the key personality traits that are shared by winning golfers. As part of the text there are a number of self-tests to compare the readers own traits to those of golf’s greats.

In this blog, I will outline the traits identified by Graham and Stabler and share my own test results.


One of the eight traits demonstrated by Champion golfers was an above-average ability to narrow their focus over the ball and detach from everything going on around them, no matter what the circumstance.

Champions were also good at relaxing this focus between shots, then narrowing it again as they approach the ball, thinking only about the shot in hand. Furthermore, poor focus was identified by Graham and Stabler as the most common mental fault they saw among their golfing clients.

My Test Score: 56%

My result was marked down as I sometimes step up to the ball without being 100% committed to the target or line. Under pressure I also sometimes struggle to feel my rhythm and tempo and allow my mind to wander to things I cannot control, such as my opponents play. This is an aspect that I have worked on with some success this season to improve my match-play performances.

According to the authors, the key to achieve proper focus is a strong mental pre-shot routine. The best guidance that I have seen in this area is contained in the book Every Shot Must have a Purpose by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott.


According to Dr Graham, abstract thinking is a simple measure of intelligence – referred as the golfers ability to analytically reason, problem-solve, learn and adapt.

High levels of abstract thinking can have a negative effect on the golfer if they are thinking too much about their swing or round in a competitive situation. Champion golfers are very good at keeping their mind alert but ‘quiet’ during a competitive round.

My Test Score: 70%

This is an area that I have improved on over the years. I used to be obsessed by technique but now I seldom think about this aspect during a round. I am pretty good at analysing the shot options but I sometimes think ahead too far in the round rather than staying in the present.


The above-average ability to stay emotionally uninvolved with results during a round is another trait associated with winning golfers. These players seldom let their emotions climb to a level at which their rational thought and control start to get compromised. They do not mask their emotions – rather understand and manage them.

My Test Score: 78%

I scored quite highly in this test – I am quite an introverted, stable person. To improve further I need to reduce my anxiety levels and fear of failure on certain shots – for me usually putts or difficult short game shots.


This trait measures how submissive and easygoing a golfer is versus how aggressive, dominant and competitive he is. According to Graham and Stabler, the ideal golfer is slightly above average in this trait, allowing them to manage themselves and the course with a strategy that maximises their skills – enough of a risk taker to provide opportunities but not so aggressive that they are constantly getting themselves into trouble.

Interestingly since this book was published we have learnt a lot through the strokes gained work led by Mark Broadie and also the improvements in Driver technology have arguably led to a more dominant focus being advantageous than suggested by Graham & Stabler.

My Test Score: 80%

My results suggest that I have the competitiveness and moderately aggressive approach that allows me to maximise my golfing skills into a good score. My current issues in the short game are leading me to become too protective or steery in this area.


Champion golfers tested above average in tough-mindedness – they are able to prepare for challenges such as poor conditions or slow play. They have a skill to detach themselves fro outside influences and to remain selfish in their approach to competition, often at the expense of social time with family or friends.

My Test Score: 54%

It is perhaps not surprising that, given my employment as somebody that is at the beck and call of 750 golfers, I struggle to switch to focus just on me when I am on the course. Over the years I am also aware that I have become less tolerant of slow play or poor playing conditions and I often let these variables negatively influence my own game.


Graham and Stabler identify two types of confidence – personal and performance. Unsurprisingly, winning golfers score highly in both. Successful players and people walk, think and talk with a level of confidence far above that of the average person. Whether they always feel it or not, they project confidence in the ways they move and carry themselves and in the ways they talk to themselves and others.

My Test Score: 60%

Confidence in myself is something that I have grown over the years, starting from a very low base as a young adult. I still focus too much on my weaknesses and worry too much about what other people think. My results are trending in the right direction.


Champion golfers are above average in self-sufficiency – very good at making difficult decisions and indeed with an actual preference for doing so.

My Test Score: 84%

Self-sufficiency is one area where my day to day career has helped my golf game. As I have progressed up the management structure, the ability to make quick, rational decisions is tested almost every day and with it your confidence and resilience to bounce back from poor decisions is increased. One area that I am not always so good at is asking for help from others.


As related to golf! this concept relates to how relaxed or pumped up the player is. For a sport like golf, an arousal level of around 6 on a scale of 1-10. As a comparison, target shooting would be a 2 and power lifting an 8.

Golfers letting their arousal levels drop too low are prone to boredom and disinterest whilst allowing arousal levels to climb too high leads to tension and poor decision making.

According to the authors, the key to managing arousal is the ability to manage stress related tension. Good tension is something you can channel and control. Bad tension is something that controls you.

My Test Score: 78%

Controlling tension is an area that I have focused on over the last couple of years and is often my dominant pre-shot focus. My tendency is to get over-tight and anxious and so a focus on a relaxed grip and arm pressure has led to some great results under pressure in recent times.


Whilst now 20 years old, this book still holds relevance in 2019. It forces you to reflect upon your own game and can be useful in identifying root causes for poor results that may have been blamed on other area such as swing technique. Be honest with yourself and you will see positive results.

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