The main point of my book The Mindful Golfer is to stay present on the golf course, to take the good with the bad, executing each shot with a quiet and prepared mind and body, and enjoying the game. It is, after all, a game, and the main reason we play it is to relax and have some fun in nature. Like most games, it can be competitive, or it can be recreational, or a combination of both. But at its heart, it started as a game, we assume, a pastime, a dalliance, a whim, a way to get out from under the tedium of the estate’s accounting, the chores, the monotony of
herding sheep or grading roads or farming or marketing. Golf had to be something fun to pass the free time when we weren’t working. Just like now.
And we discovered, early on, that to play a game with a ball and a stick properly one needed to be focused on the matter at hand, namely striking the ball on that part of the stick that had the most mass, known perhaps for time immemorial as the sweet spot. And to paraphrase Jackie Gleason, “How sweet that sweet spot is.” On course commentators Roger Maltbie and David Feherty both commented that on that historic last round at The Open Championship in July of 2016, Henrik Stenson never missed the sweet spot, an achievement that will not go down on his scorecard, or in the official stats books, but one that this writer holds in high esteem. For I know that consistently hitting the sweet spot is not only one of the most satisfying feelings in golf, but also one of the most elusive.
And Buddhists say that when you are totally in that present moment, the urge to judge fades to white, and you can thoroughly enjoy that moment, regardless of its results. So strike that sweet spot often–whether from within
the trees or on the short grass. If all is clicking and ticking like a fine clock’s mechanism, like Stenson’s was that magnificent Sunday in July, then you will experience what staying in the moment feels like. Once, in Brazil, I jumped into the heart of a tropical waterfall and pool, and almost drown from the force of the fall. I did not drown. It’s like that. Once, at Pacific Dunes in Oregon, I sank a 20 foot birdie on a par 3 overlooking a wild ocean at one of the greatest courses in the world. It’s like that. And once, at Adobe Creek in Petaluma, I hit a perfectly struck 9-iron into a stiff wind which took one bounce and dove into the cup for an ace. It’s like that. But the difference was that Henrik never left the moment. He was there for every one during that duel with Phil on the final day. Phil was pretty much there for every one as well, a rare happening that led to one of the greatest finishes in major tournament history.
Golf as a venue for enlightenment. It takes a great deal of practice and preparation and a clearing of the mind to allow the soul, the spirit, the angels, the gods, if you will, to emerge. I believe they don’t just emerge for all the good stuff. They are there for consolation when you don’t play so well but you were able to suspend judgement about the poor play. They are very sympathetic when anyone suspends judgement of themselves and others. You could see it in the eyes of Henrik Stenson when he was closing in on victory. They were not killer instinct eyes. They were not intimidating eyes, nor were they the eyes of revenge for all the times Phil bested him at majors he felt he should have won. They were gentle, almost mesmerized eyes of a man in the zone of the present moment. Pure mindless golf, honed by years of mindful golf.
Yes, to attain the dizzying heights of mindlessness, you must pick up every piece of mindful mental litter, record it, notice it, and let it waft past like a dandelion puffball blown helter-skelter in a stiff breeze.
And now Dustin Johnson picks up the cudgel. As Bobby Jones once said of Nicklaus, “He plays a game I am not familiar with.” There is a calm around Johnson. His drives are of such distance and quality (I know, with the exception of the final round at this year’s Tour Championship) I think no other man alive can know what he feels at the end of a swing of his driver, and now, his approach clubs as well.
Every sinew of every muscle seems engaged in that swing. Every neuron and every synapse in his brain seems to pause in anticipation of the strike, the jolt, the bombast, the explosion of a power that knows no equal in comparison to any other human being on Earth. Even Johnson, himself, seems unconscious at the moment of impact. He is some sort of automaton sent here from another galaxy, perhaps, where golf is the be all, end all of existence, where no other action carries the weight and significance of a pure golf shot. DJ may well not be entirely human. He may well not be fully aware of the sequence of nerves and neurons and some sort of nebula from outer space that inhabits this specimen of a swinging body. I knew Zen masters like him in the 70s and 80s, but not nearly in as good of shape, and couldn’t play a lick of golf. And even after the Tiger Era, he, too, plays a game none of us is familiar with, and, despite all our efforts and practice, never will be.
I never liked the way his left wrist bowed at the top of his swing, but now I see it as a kind of cosmic catapult that came with him from that far off planet, Golf, from which eons ago his ancestors came to Earth and handed down their DNA to an embryo that would one day be called Dustin Johnson. And this young man, destiny firmly implanted, would grow up to be a golf professional who would raise the level of the sport–and, yes, DJ decidedly transforms this game to a sport and not just a game–to something the Greeks, if they knew of golf, would have elevated to Mount Olympus with their many gods hitting shot after solid shot.
Hyperbole? You bet. But who among you will dispute my Rasputin-like rantings to all hail Dustin Johnson. Of course, despite a so-so year, I’d put Rory in that category as well, especially after his impressive finish and win of the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup. Rory, too, knows the landing area of that sweet spot, and has, with DJ and Henrik, elevated the game to a sport.
Oh, for a head to head battle between DJ, Henrik, and/or Rory at the Ryder Cup, with the winner inspiring their team to victory!
Rest in Peace, Arnold Palmer. The King will forever represent the image of how golf and life should be played: with courage, with intelligence, with humor, with camaraderie, with grace, with honor, with generosity, with respect, with awareness, with consciousness, with love.