The (Golf) Doctor Is In
by Dr. Roberta A. Isleib
"Meet Dr. Griswold," golfer Roy McAvoy says to his friends in the movie, Tin Cup. "This is Molly. She's my shrink."
"Ex-shrink," Dr. Molly Griswold corrects him. "We're sleeping together now so I can't be his therapist."
Dizzy, uptight but sexy, with boundaries porous as cheesecloth-this was the model I found for a fictional sports psychologist when I began to write my golf mystery, Six Strokes Under. And sports psychologists didn't have the market cornered when it came to having their professional image trashed in the popular media. Shrinks of all varieties were portrayed in films and books as bumbling fools, lacking in scruples, or crazy themselves.
I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology and interest in the mental side of golf by including a psychologist in my novel. The challenge was to dream up a character who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries.
I chose Cassandra Burdette, a female caddie on the PGA Tour, as the protagonist for my book. Limited by neuroses that kept her from exploring her own talent directly, she settled for carrying the bag of a gruff but handsome rookie, Mike Callahan. Unfortunately, Mike's career was being torpedoed by the yips, uncontrolled jerky hand motions that destroy a golfer's putting statistics and confidence. This conflict presented the perfect opportunity to introduce sports psychologist Dr. Joe Lancaster. While counseling Cassie about her golfer's putting problems, he could also begin to poke (in a friendly way) at the psychological issues that kept her from reaching her potential. And with his expertise in understanding people, he could be a valuable resource when it came time to identify suspects and unravel motives for murder.
Dr. Lancaster developed into a composite of golf and other sports psychologists-some I knew personally and others I'd read about. He was eclectic in his approach to psychological consultation-his arsenal included visualization, pre-shot routines, and setting specific short-term goals. In Six Strokes Under, Cassie discovers that Lancaster's technique for blocking anxiety in a golf tournament works when you are confronted with the unpleasantness of finding a dead body, too. In chapter four, she finds the body of a psychiatrist as she leaves her own therapy session:
"As I sat facing away from the doctor's body, my nostrils filled with a strong, metallic odor. I knew it was his blood. I remembered a technique Joe taught me for blocking out distracting or unpleasant thoughts on the golf course: If your mind is busy cataloging horizontal and vertical lines in your environment, he'd said, it pushes the panic and negativity right out. Don't analyze the lines, just notice them."
Talk about living vicariously-this was great fun! I could kill off anyone I wanted without consequences. Plus, Cassie Burdette had all the golf skills a middle-aged, middle-tier amateur like myself could only dream about. And Dr. Lancaster had a plum of a fictional job as traveling psychologist for the PGA Tour. In my real life, Penguin Putnam bought a three-book series, with the caveat that Cassie be introduced as a prime time player-a golfer rather than a caddie. The result is Six Strokes Under, in which Cassie braves golf's grim reaper, the LPGA qualifying school, and Joe Lancaster launches his career as shrink to wanna-be golf sensations.
The golf doctor is in!