There have been a few players over the years that have made it their business to be hopelessly distracted by crowd noise. ‘Sheep Dog’ syndrome refers to the way one’s ears become attuned to noise in the same way your average Border Collie responds to its master calling or the whistle signaling.
The human brain is at its happiest when its patterns are deep seated and flow like cars speeding along an uncluttered freeway. But there is a distinction to be made in so much as I mention the ‘brain’ as opposed to your attention, awareness and happiness.
Habits do not care what you like and what you don’t like which explains why the heroin addict will continue, the smoker keeps purchasing and marital arguments endure.
Patterns and habits purely exist for efficiency purposes. Evolution has managed to take the thinking out of the thinking to allow an economy of mind and an economy of action.
Being ‘out of kilter’, ‘out of sorts’, ‘out of your comfort zone’ or simply ‘distracted’ all point toward a mind that has either become clogged with lanes of thought or shoved into situation it doesn’t recognize.
A New Norm – for Now
COVID has introduced new patterns for all of us, and like the heroin addict or the smoker, whilst we deplore the use of masks and sterile greetings of elbows instead of handshake’s, new habits, whether we like it or not, have now reshaped us.
PGA Tour players have now become accustomed to playing competitive golf without the ambient noise of an adjacent gallery. Yes, there are world ranking points on the line, status, titles and money but the environment in which it now takes place is vastly different.
Instead of a cauldron of proximity, they now find themselves competing in the echo chambers of an empty cathedral.
In his pomp, Colin Montgomerie was just one player that I would have referred to in saying ‘made it his business’ to be distracted. One can only imagine that the young Montgomerie was raised in a house with a zero tolerance for frivolous noise. Such was his mastery at premature noise detection during his playing days, he’d could berate a child with a sweety wrapper from 50 yards before the young waif had even thought about getting it out of his pocket.
For some players, I see a real problem when the fans are back in the cathedral supping their beers, munching on hot dogs and idiotically shouting ‘mash potato’.
So, What is the Answer?
There are many similes between professional musicians and professional sportsman. The most intrinsic of these is the need to perform to an exceptionally high level of competence whilst indiscriminate noise is constantly thrown at you.
However, the most functioning of entertainers and sportsman do not habitually raised the drawbridges of awareness and insecurely shield their ear drums, in fact they do quite the opposite.
Unlike Montgomerie, who habitually sought a black dot of noise upon the unavoidable white page of atmosphere (void), the attention of the un-distracted is always on the macro level of white noise.
That is to say, if you focus on EVERYTHING, not ONE thing can distract you.
A narrow external focus is essential for the eyes yet for the ears, paralyzing.
In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow he quite rightly notes that its impossible to listen to two conversations simultaneously. So, for some PGA Tour golfers, the reintroduction of fans will be as attractive as the screaming baby behind as you mentally grapple with a plane death lurching in high wake turbulence.
To avoid this, PGA Tour players should do what they should never do on the driving range:
‘Listen to everything – and not One thing’