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Archive for January, 2010

True Gravity

When you swing a golf club, a huge number of movements take place in the body and mind. Anything that distracts from that process, even slightly, can throw off the concentration and timing needed to hit the shot properly and have it land where you aimed. Of course, once it lands, a whole series of mishaps can befall the ball, such as a bad bounce, a divot, a plugged ball, mud, or another golfer who inadvertently picks up your ball. Those things you have little control over, except, as I have said in previous blogs, your reaction to them.

Examples would be betting, which raises anxiety levels, chronic slow play, your playing partners talking when you are preparing to swing, talking divisive politics between shots, suffering poor golf etiquette, abrasive personality traits, and someone behind you hitting into your group. Have I missed anything? Probably about a million others, as Rocco might say. These things are much more intrusive then the cameras that bother touring pros. I’ll take a thousand camera shutters in place of two guys whispering about their last trip to Pebble as I start my backswing. Golf takes tremendous concentration and focus to play it well, which is why on professional and skilled amateur levels, many golfers don’t talk much during competitive rounds. The mind must be relatively still and quiet for all those bodily movements to synchronize and mesh. Talking during a friendly, social round is fine, but too much conversation between shots or at the tee waiting for the next group to move on gets the mind more focused on the content of the talk then the golf at hand. So you start leaving things out, like your pre-shot routine, and certain swing cues you’ve been working with, and factoring in important elements like the wind, temperature, and setup location in the tee box. If its the first tee, there’s the added stress of being watched by a number of others besides your group. Anxiety rises, causing yet another distraction, this time internal.

What to do? (more…)

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“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” ~His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

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Ambition and desire play an important role in golf and make it very difficult to stay present with each swing. For with each shot, we are wanting some result, as we do in daily life with work, relationships, cooking, recreation, shopping, etc. Great sages such as the Buddha, Krishnamurti, and Jesus discouraged ambition and desire claiming these led to suffering and discomfort. I’ve experimented with this and discovered that what they said was true. But these characteristics form the basis of our Western society and must be considered. So, as a golfer and as a human being, what to do? Do we stop wanting to accomplish things? Do we delude ourselves into thinking that we have no desires and any result is OK? Something like, “I don’t really care how I do. As long as I’m out  enjoying the sunshine.” Yeah, right! First, be honest: We do want things to happen in certain ways. We really want that 7-iron to clear the bunker in front of the green and softly land ten feet from the pin. Damn right, we do. But what happens if we plug in the sand? How attached were you to the results of the shot? How angry do you get? And how long does that anger stick around? (more…)

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Of course you can choose not to keep score and that’s valid, but understand that by doing so you take most of the stress out of the game. That reduces the application of the game to your life, especially the more difficult aspects of life. You will have fun playing without a score, especially if you play badly. But the potential for having even more fun is eliminated by the lack of a score, for a good score is a source of pride and accomplishment and status among your playing partners. If you don’t keep score, I would advise to at least take a caddie since having a professional watch your every effort is a form of stress, since you are playing not only for yourself but for the caddie as well. The caddie takes pride when he sees a golfer has followed his instructions and succeeded in producing a good shot or good score for that particular hole. If a caddie is not possible (many public courses no longer make them available), then you will have to set your own standards other than score. As a golfer you know the wonderful feel of a good golf shot compared with the miserable feel of a poor one. Watch your mind after each for you will certainly have opportunities for both during a round of golf (as even a professional does). What thoughts pop up? What does your inner critic say to you? Step back and observe the monologue as the words arise. Right them in a journal perhaps after the round. This way you get an idea of what inner script you are reading from now, and perhaps have been reciting from for a long time. This is part of taking an inventory, as they do in any 12-step program. After all, we’re all addicts to some degree or another.

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Golf is a game that will test you repeatedly–physically, emotionally, even spiritually. It will test how present you are with your moments, and how readily you can let go of the outcome of each moment. You haven’t much time to process the results of the moment, namely the last shot. You have several minutes between shots depending on their length. What happens in your mind during that walk/ride to the next shot will determine your preparedness for that shot. In this way, a round is built and developed. Like a builder who must be impeccable at each stage of the foundation and  framing, you must be able to put the last shot behind you and proceed to analyzing the next. That’s why it’s the most demanding game/sport there is. The score is an indication as to how you’re doing. It’s not the whole story, but gives a barometer of how your mind works in relation to your body. So to improve in golf is not only to work on your swing and how your body performs it, but to watch the workings of your mind and what you tell yourself. Are you a harsh critic? Do you berate yourself continually? Do you obsess on the past, especially the immediate past? Do you wallow in self pity and judgment? Are you having fun? You might apply these questions to your life as well, and take inventory with the intent of making changes.

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Golf may be the most demanding game/sport there is. You’re faced with a series of shots that lead to results that add up to a score that measures how you’re doing. If you let a poor shot remain in your mind when play a subsequent shot, you will be unable to fully concentrate in the moment of that present shot. If you remain angry, judgmental, regretful, dejected, embarassed, or a whole range of other negative mind states, you’re next shot will probably suffer and your score will reflect. The game is unforgiving in that way. And so, not only do you need to practice the physical aspects of a proper swing but you need to take inventory of how your mind reacts to the results of those swings and make changes as needed. More on how to do this in subsequent entries.

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I was disheartened yesterday after my round. I played in the mud of Bennett Valley and each swing was a slog. My shoes: my Vibram soled, waterproof hiking boots instead of my Footjoys. Mud found its way onto my ball for every fairway shot. Heavy shots produced divots three inches deep and eight inches long. I didn’t want to play again for a long time. I was saturated inside and out with wet golf. So what did I do today? I practiced. I had a swing solution I needed to try out. So on the way to a daily hike, I slipped off to practice. From despair to hope in one day. And the practice was successful, lifting my spirits and my determination to play again…as soon as this coming rain lets up. Golf as disease, and golf as remedy. It’s a strange game that way. It takes away and it gives. It drives one down into the ashes of the kitchen, as Robert Bly might say. It stomps on your ego, then causes it to soar and revel in its ability to rebound. It brings humility and pride in the gap between two shots. I marvel at golf’s ability to transform misfortune into fortune, then back to misfortune, and still come back the next day and do it all over again. Golf.

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