[The following is a continuation of a very old article I wrote about 4 years ago, entitled, Life is Golf: the Penalty Shot. After four years, I reckon it was time to pick up the clubs again, and swing away.]
I suck at golf.
I love the game, however. I’ve been playing it, on and off–mostly off the last few years–since I was about 10 years old, which is about a year or two after the Scots invented it in the 17th Century.
I’m not a particularly good golfer, as the score is kept anyway. When I play, I average in the 90s. The best games I ever shot were in the 80s, the best being 82, I think. I posted that score when I was in my late 30s, after returning to the game from a long hiatus.
But that wasn’t so much an improvement over what I was capable of shooting when I was 16 years old, when I shot an 86 one summer day in the mountains of North Carolina.
The big difference between those two scores, other than the 4 strokes on the card, was in my attitude towards the game, and the games.
Back in 1982, when I posted the 86, I was a serious golfer. I was rabidly competitive. I remember starting that game off with a couple of pars, and then putting my game face on. I was hyper focused. Serious. I didn’t enjoy a single moment of that fuckin’ game, until the end, when I could look at the card and see the 86 and know that I had beaten my dad, and my brother Dave.
Fast forward to the 82 I shot in my 30s, and the entire picture was different. I was with good friends, on our home course in Greenville, N.C., drinking beer, talking shit, laughing, enjoying the day in the sunshine, and hitting a little ball around a course that I knew all so well.
I had given up any and all attachment to the score. Instead, I focused on enjoying each shot for what it was: a chance to make a great shot.
What was the difference?
Zen philosophy, specifically one book, Zen Golf, by __________
If you play golf, and you haven’t read this book, GO GET IT NOW! Download it, pick it up at the bookstore, whatever. Just fuckin’ read it. It changed my game forever.
Not only did it change the way I approached golf, but life itself.
As I mentioned in a very early article I wrote, way back when I began this blogging journey, Life is Golf: the Penalty Shot, golf is a microcosm of life itself. Every shot is like every decision you make in life; you only have control over the shot you’re making, right now. Not the one you just hit into the lake; it’s already at the bottom. Not the shot you smacked into the jungle; it’s resting under an alligator. The only shot you can make, in this moment, is the one right before you, now.
There is no past; there is no future: only right now. Take aim, and swing the fuckin’ club.
Life is Golf: What’s Your Target?
Now, there’s a rule in Zen golf, that states that the last thought that enters your mind before the club hits the ball on the downswing, is the target.
This is an absolute truth. Remember it. And don’t think for one second that this is just about golf.
If you begin your pre-shot ritual, standing behind the ball at the tee, or in the fairway–or if you’re more like me, in the forest–and you’re thinking, “Don’t hit it into the lake,” then you approach your ball, set your feet, take your practice swing, the whole time repeating where you don’t want the ball to go (into the lake), then as you take your back swing, pause at the top where the club wraps around your backside, then start downwards, repeating your mantra, “Don’t hit it into the lake,” guess where the ball is going to end up?
Right. In. The. Fuckin. Lake. Pretty much every time.
It’s like magic, and it is magic. You had a thought, you kept that thought in the mind, and you manifested exactly what you intended; your ball ended up in the lake.
“But I said, NOT in the lake!” you say.
Yes, that’s true. But the problem is, that the mind disregards everything in that statement, except that last word. The subconscious mind, which is really what’s in charge of our actions, doesn’t regard negative words. It skips over them and picks out the one word in there that is a destination: LAKE, and acts upon it, as if it were a positive command.
This is Law of Attraction stuff (the mind manifests what it focuses upon).
If your focus is on the lake, then the lake is the target. If your focus is on what you don’t want, you will get what you don’t want. You will get precisely what you focus upon. Every time.
What’s the solution? How do you keep your ball out of the lake?
PICK A REAL TARGET!
What do you want? Don’t tell yourself what you don’t want. Instead, focus on what you DO WANT.
How difficult is that? Pretty damned, actually, but it remains the truth, nonetheless.
If you don’t want your ball to go into the lake, forget about the lake; put it out of your mind altogether. Instead, pick a target, a precise target, where you want the ball to ACTUALLY land.
Look out over the fairway, beyond that lake (that isn’t there, remember), and pick a spot where you’d love for your ball to end up, then pick a spot short of that, that you think will allow the ball to roll to the intended destination. Remember, balls roll when they land, so if you want the ball to end up in the hole, don’t pick the hole as the landing spot.
Choose the tiniest target you can see and keep it in your mind. Maybe there’s a leaf lying on the fairway, or a small bare patch in the grass. Choose something definite. Don’t say, “land on the fairway;” that’s entirely too vague. Be precise. Vagueness is pathetic anyway. Be bold, choose a real target!
Then, keep that target in your mind through the entire routine of the shot, and all the way through the swing and post swing. Focus your mind on that spot, and tell yourself,
“I’m gonna nail that spot!”
This is a difficult thing to master, but crucial if you want to play golf well.
Your mind is gonna want to wander all through the process, but nowhere in that process is it more difficult to focus on the target, than just as you begin the downswing.
That moment of truth, right before you swing into the ball, is where most of us really fuck it up. It’s like fumbling on the one yard line in the championship, or stumbling at the finish line.
I’d tell you not to stumble, but that will only assure that you will. And you’re gonna do it anyway. Not every time, but a lot. And that’s okay.
It’s not the stumble that matters; it’s that you know what you did wrong, now. Before, you were hitting boxes of balls into a watery grave, and had no clue why. Now you know why. You were telling yourself to do it, and it happened.
Now you just have to tell yourself what to do, but make it positive. Choose a positive target, not a negative one. The mind doesn’t know the difference. It doesn’t fuckin’ care. It will go precisely where your focus tells it to go.
Will that be the lake? Or will it be a hole in one?
Remember, Golf is Life, and Life is Golf.