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Jul 14

What is Golf IQ?

What is Spieth’s IQ?

Is Spieth a Genius?

Nick Faldo’s take on Jordan Spieth’s future is an interesting one. He doesn’t claim unequivocally that the young star will win the third or fourth event in the Grand Slam of Golf, but he thinks Spieth is in the very best of hands – his own. He credits Spieth’s “high IQ” for this bright outlook for Spieth’s future tournaments.

spieth Most of us associate, incorrectly, that intelligence is directly credited to number crunching, memory and the ability to see through and unravel normally perplexing problems, often math, where others cannot. Indeed, that is one type of intelligence, but there are others. What does a golfer, more specifically Jordan Spieth, require to be considered a mental ace in his game, and does IQ matter when you’re lining up a five iron between narrow trees?
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Are we confusing someone with an incredible “feel” for the game for a genius, or is that talent? Or, is talent a certain type of intelligence? Harvard and Princeton think it is, but they’re just a bunch of eggheads. What do they know? IQ is a term developed in 1912, around the days of Francis Quimet, by psychiatrist William Stern, who broke it all down into visual and verbal. These IQ categories have been further broken down into fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. The former denotes the ability to solve new problems, sometimes on the fly, while the latter refers to an already accumulated body of knowledge. Both seem more than relevant to a high golf IQ.

First, there is processing speed and reaction – Golfers catch a break there, as there are broad stretches of time before and after shots. Processing speed and reaction is for tennis. Serena Williams, for example has a very high tennis IQ in this regard. The next category is auditory processing – in golf terms, that’s a reaction to someone yelling “fore!” that could keep your head from getting bonked. It’s also a reaction to a course marshall telling you that you’re on the clock for slow play – not much else. The real golf IQ lies elsewhere.

Aha! Here’s one – long term storage.  It goes something like this. Remember when I shot that 66 at Pensacola? Now, let’s see, how did I do that? It’s good IQ if you can remember right away. Then, there’s short-term storage – Now let’s see, how did I hit that wedge three holes ago? Same story.
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Reading and writing, or “literary” intelligence – what’s up with that? In the tent, of course, figuring a scorecard correctly, so that you won’t be disqualified. Reading the course and tour rules?  Crystallized intelligence might mean being able to quote Shakespeare from memory, but the scorecard and the USGA rules, that’s fluid IQ, and you’d better have it.

Numeric symbols – same thing, remembering your score, shot by shot, if you don’t have a caddie with Math IQ. Then, there is emotional intelligence. Anyone who does anything hard and competitive must have it, from concert violinists to Grand Slam winners. It’s at the center of any sportsman’s IQ. It gets you to the practice range, and sustains you through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, through four rounds of IQ breaking pressure. It makes you choose a 3 iron instead of blasting a driver from deep into the woods while sitting on an ant hill. In the last round of the British Open, you take the drop rather than hitting from the creek (Jean, you know I’m talking to you).

Artistic intelligence? We all have that if we appreciate the beauty of the game and its surrounding countryside. So, is Spieth a genius because he has the feel? The self-knowledge? The fluid problem solving/ crystallized knowledge of his swing? Does he need advanced physics to have a high golf IQ?

Don’t ask me. What do I know?

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.