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Archive for the ‘Buddhist’ Category

We’ve all felt it. A tightening of the muscles around the neck. A lump in the throat. A rising of blood to the forehead. A quickening heartbeat. Sweaty palms. In golf, it’s particularly troublesome, we are told. It’s a game that requires precision timing and coordination. It requires being in the moment, dealing only with the matter at hand, namely wielding an unwieldy metal club, attempting to hit a small white dimpled ball to a target over 300 yards away. Any tightening, sweating, beating, or blood rising beyond the norm will truncate that process and dynamite any chance for success. We feel it elsewhere too, like at work when the our supervisor comes by and asks to have a “word with you,” or when a cop pulls us over, or when our spouse “needs to talk.” Pressure greets us almost daily with its bared teeth and a scowl. An overdue phone bill. Noisy neighbors that need quieting. Humans have always known it. We have much experience dealing with it, yet it’s as difficult to handle now as it was in the caves of France thousands of years ago.

In golf, no tournament is as pressure packed as a match play event, like the one being played this week in the Arizona desert. Every hole is as pressure packed as the last, and the last may well be your last before your flight home. How do these guys handle it? How do they maintain their level of concentration? How do they keep their swings from crumbling (more…)

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I was watching the first couple of tournaments recently and was astounded at how lackluster the field was. I would guess the ratings were in the tank, as the only things that would draw viewers were the warm venues. Personally, I tuned into the match between Sam Snead and Bob Hope instead of seeking out David Toms and Mark Wilson. Over at the Champions Tour, there was Brad Bryant apologizing for his 65, more surprised than anyone that he chipped and putted his way to the top of the leaderboard. Tiger hadn’t started his season yet, flying off to Dubai for a huge appearance fee and a joust with the crackerjacks of the European Tour. This blog has predicted he will win just about everything this year, and has advised him to do so then quit competitive golf and concentrate on his foundation. Bobby Jones did this, as did Byron Nelson, and they had no sex scandals to face down. Whether Tiger stays or goes, professional golf goes downhill. He could stay and dominate, or he could go and fade away. Either way, golf suffers. The current crop in their late 20s and early 30s are not strong enough to hold up the high bar of professional golf on all levels of accomplishment. Woods was the last of the lot, and look at the bloody mess he left behind, an irreparable heap of emotional horsecrap laying by the side of the road. And please, don’t feed me all the sanctimonious BS about Tiger haters. I don’t hate Tiger. I’m angry at him for taking himself down along with the game he built up.

Golf requires what the Buddhists call impeccability, which is (more…)

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Winter is a time to prepare for the new golf season, mentally and physically. Golf is tough enough for you to try to play much in winter. When I was a kid just starting to play the game in Philly, I’d put on three sweatshirts and play Cobbs Creek for 50 cents on frozen ground with 25 degrees temps. Cold? What cold? I felt no cold as the ball would roll about a million miles (as Rocco would put it), much to my delight. But that was then. Now, in my older middle age, my body and mind just can’t take the cold, wind, rain, and mud of winter, even in relatively mild northern California (I do get out a bit more this winter as we’ve had practically no rain and temps in the 60s so far). Instead, I watch the pros start off the season in Hawaii, swing a bit on my patio, putt  on the rug with a device that guides me into a slight open/close pendulum stroke, joined a gym, and have purchased some very helpful apps for my iPhone/iPad.

My favorite app is Golf My Way by Jack Nicklaus. I love Jack’s breezy, personal style, from filming made at the height of his powers back in the early (more…)

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The golf swing is mostly a matter of staying in balance. At address, you are in a state of balance. The feet are firmly planted. The head is steady, with the eyes fixed on the ball. The weight shifts between both feet as you waggle the club. The grip is light and ready for action. The hips are quiet, anticipating the coming turn. The arms are loose, like a sling ready to whip into the shot. Even the ball sits so serenely on tee or turf, the unsuspecting recipient of unbridled molded metal launched like a hammer from the thrower’s lunge. The waggle settles into a quiet stillness in that final moment before the club is drawn back, before centrifugal force emerges from the hara, the figurative center, of the golfer’s soul. Balance. Even the air stills, in response to the golfer’s equanimity.

Ah, if only that moment of stillness, of quiet, of mind as dumb and silent as a water buffalo, as my Buddhist teacher Ajahn Sumedho would put it,  could be retained throughout what is now to happen. If only that homeostasis could be retained throughout the swing of a golf club. But alas, the moment of truth comes. The swing, the movement, must commence, and with far more urgency than the infamous Garcia waggles of yesteryear. The tsunami approaches. No time for thought or further preparation. The water rises and you can’t see over it. You’re in too deep now. You’ve made the date and it’s time to dance and you better know your steps or your date will leave you dancing alone. Your date…in golf? Your swing. Your confidence. Your self respect. Your balance.

Since your downswing comes on as fast as a Navy Seal at bin Laden’s hideout, the start of that action is crucial. It must be well timed or your balance will be compromised. So you have to find a pace that will help you maintain balance through impact to follow through, but is not so slow as to compromise distance for accuracy. Now most amateurs think that the faster the pace, the farther the ball will go. But this is only true if you can keep your balance throughout. Chi Chi Rodriguez had a very short backswing but an extremely quick pace, and this worked for him. John Daly has a very long backswing with a much slower pace. Freddy Couples has a backswing at about parallel with a relatively slow pace. At the follow through, all of these accomplished pros were and are in balance. In fact, just about all touring pros share this characteristic, despite the many variations of form and pace. Each has found a pace that allows them to make solid contact while staying in balance.

So you need to experiment in the laboratory: the range. You’ll find right off that the longer the club, the more difficult to retain balance while achieving distance and accuracy. Therefore, the driver is the most important club in the bag to find the correct pace for your swing. Controlling the clubhead of a driver is a bit like swinging a snake by the tail. It helps then to have your driver professionally fitted to your swing, especially the shaft. That way, whatever pace is best for you will take full advantage of the technology of modern clubs.

And how do you finish the driver swing? Your weight should be on the front foot, with your back foot positioned on the toes. Your hands should be high in the follow through, with your belt buckle facing the target. If you’ve been in perfect balance throughout the swing, you will hear the result with the crack of solid contact, and there is often a forward recoil of the club as you’d feel after a firing a gun. It’s an extremely satisfying experience. Unfortunately, many amateurs I see end with their weight on their back foot, their clubhead skewed left of target, their forward arm bent like a boomerang, and about as balanced as a drunk driver. The flight of the ball, the other major barometer of balance, will usually be anywhere but straight and off the ground. Often playing a high spin ball more suited to a pro, the ball flight will be curved, either hooked or sliced in the woods or rough or whatever trouble the hole defends itself with. We have an expression that “the course beat me up today.” Not correct. We beat ourselves up with our out-of-balance swings.

And what about irons and hybrids? More than the driver, these are clubs where the weight has to be shifted quickly and forcefully from the back foot at the top of the backswing to the front foot at the start of the downswing. It’s the only way the clubhead can contact the ball first then the turf, producing the action of the ball rising up the angle of the club face and grabbing the grooves for the backspin needed to hold a green. That’s how and why  a divot is needed and taken–a divot about the size of a dollar bill. Anything less and you have a chunk, a thin, a top, a skank, or a shank. Again, balance is the key, and the weight shift and hip turn and still head keeps you there.

Finally, there are the eyes. If you close your eyes and spin around, you’ll probably lose your balance. In golf we use the eyes to watch the ball, which becomes the object of our concentration. Throughout the day, our eyes help us stay in balance, help orient ourselves to our surroundings as we constantly shift and adapt to our changing reference points. With golf, it’s easier as we have only one reference point to focus upon: the ball. Watch it throughout the swing.

There’s more, I know. But this should give you enough to experiment with. Next step is to hit the range and play with the combinations and permutations of balance. It’ll help you reach the next level…and not fall off.

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Golf involves such an intricate array of muscle movements that if you are out of balance just slightly, the flight of the ball will be affected negatively. Being a student of meditation and a teacher of Tai Chi, I have observed how a loss of balance can catapult you out the present moment and into a precarious flirtation with chaos. In golf, that chaos translates as miss-hit shots, poor decisions around course management, and letting big numbers affect your entire day. In life, losing one’s balance can be much more catastrophic, like the sad case of three hikers in Yosemite who waded into a pool above Vernal Fall, slipping, and going over the edge to their death. Other examples include elderly people who land in nursing homes because of a fall, and those who lose their emotional balance, resulting in serious psychological disorders. With golf, the effects of imbalance are not as dramatic as I’ve just described–it’s a game, after all–but if you’re serious about golf, it can be no less frustrating and aggravating when (more…)

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As with the previously mentioned monkey traps of South America, where monkeys trap themselves by holding on to the food in a simple gourd hung from a tree, only having to let go the food and go free, many golfers are like those monkeys and hold on too tight to the club, from address on through the critical impact zone. By clutching the grip like a splitting maul, tension builds up throughout the swing, and when the first significant resistance is encountered, at impact, the likelihood of letting go the club is great.

Tension is the archenemy of the golf swing, be it mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual. And tension starts with the grip. The hands are so sensitive that they translate any tension generated by the above factors. And that translation is usually one of tightness. We think the tighter the better, but golf is often counter-intuitive. Unfortunately most instructors emphasize holding the club tightly with the last three fingers of the non-dominant hand. The brain often interprets that as a kind of death grip that also affects the other fingers. And it’s there we monkeys are caught in the trap of no return. For with a grip of such intensity, there’s only one way to go: (more…)

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Tiger Woods is currently on a slippery slope. The “greatest golfer of all time” is in danger of becoming an asterisk within a parentheses. This self-professed Buddhist is doing things that no true Buddhist or any spiritually evolved person would do. Spitting on greens. Playing mind games during competition with Sergio Garcia. Throwing clubs. Ignoring fans. Rejecting TV interviews. Not trying when the tournament seems lost. Behavior unbecoming of a professional athlete…or of a conscious human being. His personal life is in an apparent shambles, perpetrator of a volatile and embarrassing sex scandal which has led to estrangement, divorce, and child custody discomfort for his kids. “I wasn’t thinking,” he said after apologizing for the spitting incidents, which led to a fine by the European Tour. Swing change or no, winning or losing, that about sums up Tiger Woods these days. A conscious human being of 35 years does think, and thinks clearly with (more…)

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