If you are an achiever by nature, just like golf stars and top poker players are, then it’s easy to understand why leading players like Rory McIlory get frustrated when their swing leaves them in the lurch, or why the game’s foremost putters such as Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods get upset when they don’t make the putt. Poker players, too, lose their cool when things don’t go their way. Just ask Phil Ivey and Brandon Adams.
The answer to the professionals’ lack of absolute top performance each time they step onto the links or touch the green felt can often be found in their emotional makeup; at the level that these gents compete, often only fractions divide them. All of them are talented individuals and on any given day it may be tough to predict the winner. Perseverance, a steely reserve and a never-say-die attitude often save the day.
GOLF AND POKER: SIMILARITIES
An interesting observation is the “close” relationship that exists between golf and poker. The similarities are not to be denied; in both cases the player has to heavily rely on skill, temperament and – often – experience. That is not to say that newcomers can’t be successful (of course they often are). However, the experienced player just has so much more to draw from. All professional golfers and poker players have a competitive edge that spectators can only admire.
If you want to compete, you need to be tough mentally as well as physically. Nothing can be left to chance. When going for glory on the greens, all the top players have to be in great shape. They have to walk many miles over a four-day spell in the big tournaments, and the unfit will not be there to lift the trophy. The same can be said for poker players; many hours of concentration are necessary to come out on top. It is a fact that, like the masters of the greens, those who rule on the green felt follow a strict exercise routine, and often a proper diet.
WELL-KNOWN GOLFERS WHO ENJOY GAMBLING
Anyone who can read knows the name Tiger Woods. Apart from Jack Nicklaus he has won the most majors in golf (an amazing total of 14) and is a true modern day icon. He may well be the best golfer ever to have stepped onto the fairway and mesmerized us all with his abilities on the greens of the world’s greatest golf courses. Few in the history of the game have had The Tiger’s talent or shown his resilience. After a bad spell following marital problems, it seems that his game is on the up again and it is not at all impossible that he may win many more of golf’s big tournaments. Aside of his near perfect swing or putt, Tiger is also an avid poker and blackjack player. A regular at the casino tables of Las Vegas, Woods is reported to have started playing soon after graduating from university. At first he placed small bets; of course later, given his confidence in his own abilities, The Tiger stepped it up a notch and began betting like a seasoned champion. Tiger also hosts his own poker tournament every year.
Another one of golf’s great characters, John Daly is often spotted at the Las Vegas gambling tables. He himself estimates that he must have lost around $55 mill. John is honest: “I should say I regret it. But I did it, I move on from it. I had a lot of fun doing it…I love the action. I love the adrenaline going in there.” It seems the rush is what often pushes these stars to win, not only in front of admiring crowds at the 18th during exciting finishes and play-offs; no, also in the world’s casinos where sometimes the financial stakes can be high. To be one of the top golfers in the game, a definite competitive edge is not negotiable. The same is true in the poker, blackjack or billiard room.
POKER PLAYERS ON THE FAIRWAYS AND GREENS
Not only do golfers like the tables – the men from the gambling rooms often enjoy stepping out to tee off. A fine example is the highest-earning tournament player of all time, Daniel Negreanu who is an avid golfer and plays as regularly as time permits. In his own words: “I’m addicted.” Daniel was one of almost 20 big poker stars to take part in the inaugural High Stakes Golf Tour event in 2007 which was organized by gambling legends Doyle Brunson and Dewey Tomko. Daniel has not let up and enjoys a day on the course with friends, other poker players or serious golfers.
Brunson, a naturally gifted athlete in his youth, started playing golf at 30 and it immediately became clear that he was a serious contender. Because of his competitive nature and belief in his own abilities, such as not folding under pressure (very important at the poker table) he often was a match for far more talented golfers.
Another well-known poker player often found on the golf course is Tom Schneider, twice winner of a WSOP bracelet. Tom loves the similarities between poker and golf because he believes there are betting opportunities on the golf course as there are on the green felt. Skills often applied in the poker room can easily be transferred to the fairway and greens. Because of its nature, as opposed to the ‘’fast’’ games, golf allows time to think between shots, just like one would do in the poker room. When it comes to planning and outsmarting the opponent, golf and poker go hand in hand for Tom.
Poker players and other gamblers tend to be very good at sensing stress in the body language or on the face of an opponent. Therefore they find it easier than most to capitalize on a situation and to take control whether they’re out on the golf course or in the poker room.
Not enough can be said about mental toughness when it comes to performance, endurance and showing verve. Not everybody with talent will hit the big time, either on the links or in the games room. Players with no financial support or sponsorships have to work so much harder to get to tournaments or to be allowed entry in top competitions; they very often have to pay their own way, airfare and hotel accommodation. Of course, once they make it, the choice of hotels and limousines seems to be just another of the perks.
Poker players’ fascination with golf has been well documented, and we know from social media that many of the world’s top golfers will never say no to a night on the green felt.