First Published on The Golf Performance Center
By Dr. Josh Brant

Mr. Understood: Jon Rahm and the Anger are not the bad guys we think they are

In episode 534 of Foreplay, a popular podcast on Bar Stool Sport that provides “golf coverage by the common golfer, for the common golfer”, Riggs and the boys (Frankie, Dan, and Trent) interview John Rahm. One of the topics that comes up early in the conversation is how Rahm’s competitiveness and passion for the game of golf is often misunderstood, especially by the media. “On TV, they make it sound like I’m the angriest guy on the planet…but that’s not true”, Rahm says.

Since coming on to the scene, Rahm’s fiery personality has led the media and fans alike to unfairly assume he is always angry and on the verge of exploding at any moment. For Rahm, it’s clear. It’s not anger, it’s passion. The “anger”, or passion, we see from behind the ropes, comes from Rahm’s lifelong competitive spirit and his deep desire to always perform at his best.

Unfortunately for Rahm, having grown up in a competitive family, and playing many sports as a kid, soccer, kayaking, jai alai, and kung fu to name a few, he may have picked the one sport, golf, that doesn’t seem to understand or tolerate the intense emotional expression of competitive passion. Rahm laments, “In every other sport it’s passion. In golf it’s an issue.”

To Rahm’s credit, he doesn’t take it personally. Rahm has been around the sport long enough to understand golf’s sanctimonious stance on what it deems inappropriate behavior, but more importantly, he understands himself well enough to know when his anger gets in his way and when it enhances his performance. Recognizing that his passion, in the form of anger, does get in the way at times, Rahm believes, “for the most part, it’s what I need to do. You can’t imagine how many times it’s helped me.” As a big fan of anger myself, I so appreciate Rahm for lauding the benefits of anger. Like Rahm, I believe, anger is equally misunderstood.

Anger is considered one of the six universal emotions expressed throughout the world (surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and sadness being the others). Anger most often boils to the surface when we are either prevented from getting something we want, or when we perceive that we are being treated unfairly. Anger can be dangerous leading to violence and aggression, and it can even be physiologically harmful to the individual experiencing the anger. Anger, hostility, and grumpiness increase your risk of heart disease by threefold (Kawachi et al., 1996).

Anger can have a negative effect on performance as well. When we get angry, our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rates increase. Our muscles tense, blood recedes from our extremities causing us to lose our sense of “feel”. Our visual field narrows and we are unable to accurately take in sensory cues from the world around us. We get defensive, impulsive, and irrational. Our thinking becomes rigid, negative, and pessimistic. We expect the worst, lose confidence, and close ourselves off from others. All of these effects make it extremely difficult to perform at our best and if the anger is not dealt with, your chances of performing well are greatly diminished. However, anger itself is not the problem. How we interpret the thoughts and feelings we associate with anger is what determines anger’s usefulness. Like Rahm, we need to grow our awareness of when anger gets in the way and when it helps us.

Here are some questions I ask clients I work with who struggle with managing their anger to help them better understand the role anger plays in their golf game, and how to use the anger to their advantage. Take some time to think about how you might respond:

Are you an angry person in general? Or, does anger only show up in certain situations? If anger only shows up in certain situations, which situations does it show up in? Are there themes or patterns to when you get angry or what you get angry about? Are you able to recognize when you’re angry in the moment? Or, do you only realize it afterwards? Do you play better or worse when you’re angry? If you notice there are times when anger helps you and times when anger gets in the way, what’s the difference between those times? Do other people comment on your anger? Do people not want to play with you because of your anger? Do you have a reputation as an angry person? Are you able to control your anger? Can you objectively reflect on your anger teasing out the constructive from the destructive aspects of it? And, can you set aside the destructive aspects and implement the constructive aspects?

Your answers to these questions will help you begin to better understand your relationship with anger and hopefully allow you to more effectively use it to your advantage. So, when it comes to sports performance, it’s not necessarily that we are trying to eliminate anger. The goal is to better understand the cause of the anger and consciously decide not to let it get in the way of our performance. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with anger itself. Anger is a normal reaction. What we chose to do with the anger is more important. By learning how to more effectively manage your anger you will put both your mind and your body into a more optimal state to perform.