I know it’s not advisable, but I do tinker with my game during a round of golf. The reason for this is that, because I don’t play enough, I tend to revert to default swing positions after I clear my head of thoughts just before the swing begins. That’s often conditioned by the quality of the last few shots, the poorer the shot the more apt I am to try something a bit different, the better the shot, the more apt I am to stick to that same swing. My main goal during a round is make solid contact on every shot, including putts. It’s a certain feel and a certain sound I’m looking for. And if I don’t experience these phenomena, it’s like Bob Dylan’s lyrics, “There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.”
So a round of golf to me, now that I play very little due to mounting time constraints, is one big experiment. And I’ve come to the conclusion, that that’s OK. Not being Adam Scott or Jason Day or Jordan Spieth, I don’t know what my swing will be on any given day (and sometimes, even at their level, neither do these guys). What I do know if what that solid strike feels like. There’s no forgetting it. It remains embedded deep in my psyche, deep in my golfer’s mind. So to get to that magical sound and feel, I start there in my quest to achieve it on any given shot. That’s where focus and concentration enter the equation. For no matter how lousy the last few shots may have been, you’ll need to regroup (as Jordan’s caddie often tells him), settle yourself, and return to that blessed
and pristine present moment that shines like a lily floating on a still pond. And how you return to that present moment is by imagining that sound of solid contact.
Even a beginner can do this as that contact, even if felt and heard only once, is the thing that has brought them back to this difficult game, in search of that Holy Grail to be experienced again. For that solid sound is what makes golf a spiritual game, even a transformational game. The reason this is so is that in everyday, mundane life nothing much comes closer to touching the oneness felt when the observer absolutely connects with the observed, the seer with the seen, the feeler with the felt, the hearer with the heard. In daily life, we live routinely in duality–in the experience of Two, as the Zen masters put it; In the solid contact of a golf shot, though, for that one instant, we are alive in the experience of One.
So we press on, like great explorers after Challenger 11–with failures providing fuel on the journey to better, and each success offering a closer view of the Grail ahead. Of course, in golf, grasping that Grail can be tenuous, at best. It’s not something that we attain and lock away for permanent possession in some cabinet in some trophy room. The Grail in golf is organic, since the body and mind change as we age, requiring taking constant inventory and making modifications when necessary. That’s a challenge that justifies my making changes as I play on any given day. It justifies seeing a pro fairly often to have an expert help in analyzing my swing (which I don’t do enough, I might add).
On the spiritual path, we would call the experience of that solid contact a moment of enlightenment, the misunderstanding of which can be a dangerous pit of quicksand. Eureka! I’m enlightened, the deluded practitioner might exclaim. Yet in the very exclamation, he may lose hold of the Grail, and tumble down the cliff of aggrandizement. In golf, such a tumble might be experienced on the very next shot, which is why the quest for the Grail must be renewed each and every time we approach the next effort. In this week’s third round of Arnold
Palmer’s event, Stanford’s amateur sensation Maverick McNealy had a double bogey, then a bogey, followed by a birdie on the next hole. In that sequence of events after a hellish descent into flames of the game, Maverick kept the Grail in sight, a model for all of us to attain. And Rory, in the same tournament, facing an embarrassing missed cut, kept ahold of the Grail, rebounding with a gutsy 67 in answer to his first round 75. (Sad to say, Rors roller-coasted to another 75 in the third round.) That’s the great thing about sports, and, I submit, golf in particular: They offer the possibility of looking failure square in the face and having the courage to stay open to the possibilities of subsequent success.
So after a long period of being elbowed out of commission by golfer’s elbow, I took a day off work, and went out to enjoy my favorite game in weather so pleasant I was sure this is what heaven must be like. After texting four friends, all of whom are retired but had other obligations, I played alone, giving me the opportunity, sans competition and keeping score, to see where my game had descended to. Doing without warm-up range time, as the elbow is still healing, I found the Grail a few times, scored a couple legitimate pars, and inventoried what was working and what was not particularly working in the game. Driving, my perennial bugaboo, remained bugabooish. Approach shots often veering off-target but with pretty good contact. Chipping, going back to an old default called the chip and run, very good. Bunkers, using my trusty 64-degree wedge, excellent. And putting, good going back to when I was 17, even better. Had some fun…and learned something to advance and inspire yet another quest of the Grail. All in all, some failure, some success, some solid contact, less pain in my elbow, and gratitude that, at 70, I am still able to push my three-wheeled cart, and walk the course as this game was originally played. There’s the Holy Grail in hand, right there!
The Mindful Golfer, the book Best seller in golf at Amazon.com
Stephen your musings on golf and life in general and their trials and tribulations remain a constant challenge to all of us. Rudyard Kipling, an avid golfer probably drew from his own personal experiences of golf when he wrote ‘If’. ‘ if you can keep your head when all about you are losing and blaming it on you’……..’if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters the same’….the full poem is full of enlightenment and worth reading!
Stephen Altschuler says
Looks like my musings have hit a target, Peter. Exactly my intent.
Definitely need to track down Mr. Kipling’s poem. Didn’t know he was a golfer.
Thanks for the comments.