The anatomy of a slump is not difficult to describe. Actually, I teeter on one now so I will attempt to pinpoint what it is that characterizes a slump and make some attempt to extricate oneself from a slump and into the green pastures of pride and accomplishment. The slump started several months ago after a particular good stretch of golf where I had reduced my handicap several points into single digit territory. Whether it was a sense of euphoria undeserved or the panic and pressure of knowing that a handicap was an organic, changeable entity that, like the swish of a horse’s tail, could revert back to its former ingloriousness sea of mediocrity, or both, I felt haunted by a shadow that seemed to pound on my door like a home invasion about to happen. That pounding may just as well have been a neighbor needing help in the night, but my mind interpreted it as dreaded home invaders. Do you see how golf is really a game between the ears, as Bobby Jones once opined?
And if you do see that, you will understand the way out of a slump, but more on that later.
In the heart of a slump–or should I say in the stomach of a slump, for a stomach has more of the acid and churning and anhedonia more characteristic of a slump–is the perception of a black hole sucking you more and more out into endless space. Now ironically black holes may suck so silently and with such power that one such monster may have started this ever-expanding universe in one humongous swallow. But when you are in a black hole I would imagine you just feel and hear the sucking sound of no sound at all. That’s unsettling, but that’s how you know you are in a slump. It is a graphic manifestation of something we humans call mental depression. The mind gets to fermenting in a brine concocted from its very own juices. It’s a mind that is treading water, and, you know, you can only stay satisfied with treading water so long. A human being wants to move forward in life, and treading water is anything but moving forward. Eventually you get tired and bored, and want to stop altogether. That’s a slump.
You start thinking about stopping. In life, suicide sometimes crosses the mind and becomes a tragic reality at times. In golf, thoughts of quitting the game come to mind like the way a bad radio advertising jingle might be played continuously in hell. And that can happen in the course of one bad round where one bad swing leads to changing your swing in reaction which often results in another bad result from the unpracticed change. It’s like the killer in San Francisco recently who took a shot at a sea lion off an Embarcadero pier, missed, and turned around to shoot at the next unsuspecting target he saw because he just had to kill something that day, as per his bizarre, distorted mind: in this case, a young woman walking with her father and a friend nearby. A slump gets started that way, though in golf with much less dire consequences.
So slumps, though you can’t see them coming, are quite real and tangible. And since most golfers do experience them from time to time, the memory of their possibility stalks like early childhood traumas of monsters hiding under our bed. I think this is the main reason for the common occurrence of pros who shoot 63 one day in tournament play, and come back the next only to “slump” to a 74 or some such ignominious disaster. With success sometimes comes the implantation of the thought of failure to follow.
So back to understanding the way out of a slump, and I am now talking as much to myself here as I am to you. As for that aforementioned horse’s tail swish, you need to find a way to disengage yourself from its lash–and the sooner the disengagement the better. The first step is to step back and away from the horse’s posterior. It’s the old adage about not standing behind a horse, which in the golfer’s case is his or her own mind. Now you’ve added a little space for reflection and, we hope, wisdom. For the quiet meadow of reflection is an antecedent of wisdom, and subsequent action. If the killer, mentioned above, had paused for a moment after firing at the sea lion, reflecting just a bit on the absurdity and insanity of his next thoughts, a young, talented, and beautiful woman would still be alive today, continuing on her life’s journey. So how to attain this “quiet meadow of reflection?”
The answer is best addressed via the actions I took after a round recently with friends at Oakmont West. I started off plagued by a fairly foul mood spawned by the detritus of a stressful week of work, but hitting the ball surprisingly solidly for a few holes. Then some bad shots entered the fray, triggering in my mind the need to modify some fundamentals that should have stayed in play but got caught in a mind meadow that had become increasingly noisy. This malaise last for several more holes where I became almost clinically withdrawn from my friends as my poor play simmered just to the boiling point and, at times, beyond into a cauldron of bubbling, over-the-edge-of-the-pot boil. At its nadir, I threw a six-iron down like a jackknife. That cast, though, had the effect of grabbing my attention around my shoulders and shaking me back to my mindful nature and training. A sign at a meditation center I once frequented read “Remember,” and, at once, I remembered my true nature, and changed my disposition.
First, I began talking again to my companions, even joking some, and getting myself and them to laugh a bit. Golf can become such a bloody serious game, especially when the “play” is not going well. So, in the sense of 21st century lingo, I lightened up. I chilled out, which ironically warmed up my mind and loosened up my body. I returned to a swing which reminded (Remember!) me of a time when I played quite well, and began hitting shots that, though not perfect and sometimes pretty bad, produced enough good results that my mood began to lift. I nipped a potentially serious slump in the bud. For what I had done was interrupt a slump in its incipient stages. I had added a slump’s enemy to the mix, namely, hope. Hope that was realistic since my changes created tangible results that showed me I could still produce good golf shots. It helped too that my chipping and putting remained solid amidst the nascent slump, so I could still point to something positive about my game while my long game was quivering at the gates to oblivion.
Now, on the day after the tremors, I focus on the last two holes where I smacked two perfect drives and ended with a sand save par on the last. My golf mind meadow is, at least for now, quiet again, as I look forward to my next round with a resurfaced hope, a slump averted.
Note: My book, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness is now out in hardback, and available at booksellers and online. If you’ve already purchased the book (and I thank you deeply for that), I would request that you go to Amazon.com and write a review of it, especially if you like it. For those who haven’t yet purchased it, I suggest you consider adding the book to your golf library, and/or gifting it to others who you think might be interested. I think you and they will enjoy it. As of this writing, the book is now a best seller in Amazon’s golf book genre.
Whether you purchase it or not, this blog will continue. I appreciate your interest, hope you continue to return, and please spread the word of it to others.
Thanks so much.