Claim: A prisoner of war who played an imaginary round of golf in his mind each day of his captivity found upon his release that he'd markedly improved his game.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2004]
Origins: This legend about the serviceman who maintained his sanity during the many years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam by playing a mental game of golf every day has long been a favorite of motivational speakers. We found it in a 1975 book authored by
In each telling we have so far examined, the imprisoned serviceman is held by his Vietnamese captors for a specified number of years (most often seven, but sometimes five). The variation in the legend occurs in the impressive results achieved by the former POW his first time back on the course:
- He plays the best round of his life (sometimes described as shooting a 74 despite a previous best in the low 90s; sometimes described as "knocking
20 strokesoff his average").
- He pockets a hole-in-one off the first tee.
- He wins a golf tournament.
Zig Ziglar described the pitfalls and rewards of visualization thus:
Former Olympic springboard diving champion Sylvie Bernier would mentally practice her dives (all ten of them) each night before going to sleep. "As I continued to work at it, I got to the point where I could feel myself on the board doing a perfect dive and hear the crowd yelling at the Olympics," she said. I worked at it so much, I got to the point that I could do all my dives easily."
Orlick speaks of training the mind and body to execute skills to perfection by programing a high quality performance into the athlete's brain. While it might sound like psychological mumbo-jumbo, visualization has taken its place as one of the key components of what goes into turning a skilled athlete into a champion, supplementing inherent skill, expert coaching, and training regimens specifically geared to bringing the athlete to a performance peak at exactly the right time.
Although many current versions of this legend identify one "Major James Nesmeth" as the Vietnam POW whose playing golf in his mind translated to his becoming a far improved linkster once he was back home, we have been unable to verify that anyone of that name served in Vietnam, was held as a POW, was released from captivity, or achieved notable results on the links after returning to the U.S. Nonetheless, the legend's underlying message that visualization can help to dramatically improve one's performance is true, although — unlike the legend's expression of this truth — visualization works in combination with other performance-enhancing factors, not as a substitute for them. Ergo, if you want to improve an area of your personal performance (sports-related or otherwise), do picture yourself a winner, but also continue to supply the other inputs as well.
Barbara "daydream believer" Mikkelson
Last updated: 29 March 2015
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Baby Train. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN 0-393-31208-9 (pp. 204-205). Canfield, Jack and Mark Victor Hansen [editors]. "18 Holes in His Mind." In A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1995 (p. 235).
Orlick, Terry. In Pursuit of Excellence. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1980. ISBN 0-7360-3186-3 (pp. 108-111). Ziglar, Zig. See You at the Top. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1975. ISBN 0-88289-126-X (pp. 48, 192-193).
Also told in:
The Big Book of Urban Legends. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (p. 186).