Golf is an ideal sport as part of a meditation practice. Now the term meditation carries with it lots of misinterpretation, so perhaps, as Dean Sluyter, author of Natural Meditation, suggests, we should use the term exploration. For golf gives us the opportunity not only to have fun and take on a challenging game, but to explore our relationship to how our minds work vis a vis the actions and results of the body. You can’t really separate them. You swing or putt to the best of your ability, and you get an immediate result. Your mind reacts cognitively to that result. And that cognitive recognition elicits an emotional response, all in a matter of milliseconds. We go through a round of this and are left with an overall feeling of elation, satisfaction, or disappointment. And we then shrug it off and go on to the next thing on the agenda. But what if we could take a deeper look at our experience, and actually learn a bit more about ourselves? Why is this of benefit? Well, paraphrasing the subtitle of my book, it can help us lower our handicap and raise our consciousness.
How it does that is by bringing more awareness into our game. We begin to observe our reactions to shots more closely–to still react emotionally as we will (we are humans, after all), but add a certain pause between that emotion and our next action. And that “certain pause” is what mindful, meditative, explorative golf is all about. You’re still one of the boys, or gals, but you have discreetly added something to your game, something your buds will only see reflected in your final score. No need to announce your new way of approaching the game. All this is done within the privacy of your own mind and body. (Of course, you might want to mention my book at the 19th hole.)
So how exactly does your game improve over time, given the above? Well, let’s take putting, for example. It’s a game in itself, isn’t it? And it’s not an easy game. And it’s more a game of the mind than the body. I mean a five-year old can pick up a putter and putt the ball into the hole. By luck, sure, but isn’t luck a part of anyone’s putting experience? I mean if you figure out the line perfectly on your birdie try but hit it with ever slightly not enough pace, you could be five feet below the hole facing bogey. Where I play, where greens are often 10 on the Stimp and very sloping, that’s a very likely possibility. That produces an immediate emotional response. And, I don’t know about yours, but mine is usually, “Oh, shit.” You figured everything out. You’ve struck a good putt (“I’ve done my job,” often says one of my golf buddies), and you’re now in jail. I know, golf is a truly unfair game, devised in ancient times by drunks and gamblers–noblemen all–with nothing better to do with their time.
So what follows is, in golf, relentless, and only ends with the last putt on the last green: the next shot. Those disturbing emotions must be dealt with before you take on, in this case, another putt, or else that putt will certainly be affected by those lingering emotions. For emotions, although they all eventually pass away, do have a tendency to linger, don’t they. In tennis, basketball, football, soccer, they don’t last as long because the next play or action happens so quickly, difficult emotions don’t have the luxury of lingering. They might come flooding in after the game is over. But in golf you always have that walk or ride to the next shot or hole. And give a negative emotion a bit of time to gestate and it becomes like a weed in your garden that you neglected to pull up by the root.
So, there’s the emotion, “Oh shit.” What next? That would be the pause of awareness, which could be a breath or–and I’m going to suggest something unusual here but again is completely discreet–an acknowledgment of your feet contacting the ground. It’s a literal grounding of yourself, of returning yourself, to the present moment where you can regroup and put the negative emotion behind you, and allow it to pass on through, if we’d only let go. This may take a bit of practice but this pause is effective in releasing that emotion and clearing your mind for the next shot and the full attention required to pull it off without that previous emotion fouling up the soup.
You might miss that next putt or shot(or not), but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you came to it with a clear, calm mind. In other words, you gave it your all. And that’s another benefit to this mental game stuff. Anything you give your all to, you’ll feel good about, regardless of the outcome.
What pros particularly manifest this approach to the game? It’s tough to know exactly what’s in their minds, but, from observation, I would suggest Justin Thomas puts his all into every shot and learns something from every round. Others include Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods, Harold Varner III, Bernhard Langer, Viktor Hovland, Colin Morikawa, Sungjae Im, and Inbee Park. There are others, of course, but those players come to mind.
There’s more, but I’ll leave you with that to chew on for a bit, and, hopefully, try out.