Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Golfing Zen #8 - First Fundamentals

With this, my eighth essay, I’ll begin to disclose my views on the true fundamentals of golf. True to the mission of the blog, you’ll find that they will be largely mental.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” …Buddha

I accept that as true, both in the short and long term, both in life and on the golf course. (Since the course and life are the same, aren’t they?)

In the case of our long-term development, Buddha’s words mirror the Ben Hogan quote I’ve cited before: “In my experience, most golfers underestimate themselves.” If we believe that we’re a 15-handicap, then we ARE a 15-handicap and will continue to be no better than that, until eventually age pulls us upwards, towards the 20’s.

Equally, Gordon Livingston says (in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, a book I reviewed before Christmas), “…we need to think about our mental instrument of navigation and how to correct it, so that we do not fall into the repetitive patterns of those who waste the learning that is the only consolation for our painful experience.” He is writing about relationships, but I’m sure you can see the corollary to golf. By accepting that we are a 15-handicap, we effectively deaden the pain of playing that way. We accept, we use our handicap as a crutch so that we can (sort of) compete, and we go on replicating our mistakes, living in our delusion, forever.

In contrast, if we take Hogan’s words to heart, if we believe in ourselves, if we see ourselves in full bloom, then today’s 15 is truly painful, and we can use that pain to move forward.

There’s the long-term rant, but I assume you were expecting fundamentals that you can take to the course today. (Of course, you can and must take the above to the course each and every day.)

The “today” version of Buddha’s message is “visualization.” Every top athlete uses mental visualization to prepare for or preview physical action. Jack Nicklaus called it “going to the movies,” and has said that he never hit a shot, on the range or on the course, without seeing it in his mind first. For putts, he not only “saw” the ball roll into the hole, he actually saw it pop back out and roll back to its starting point. Tiger Woods, in his clinic that has been playing on the Golf Channel recently, says the same thing, that visualization is part of his every-shot routine, and that it is a matter of repeating that routine thousands of times so that it happens — under pressure — without thinking about it.

I’ve read that people have different levels of ability to visualize, and that your ability level relates to your ultimate playing potential. The levels described were:

  • Target. Top players (Nicklaus talks this way) visualize only the target; their full focus is on where the ball is to go.
  • One level down, people “see” the ball flight.
  • One level further, people see the club motion needed to produce the ball flight that will carry the ball to the target.
  • Last, some players need to focus on the body motion needed to swing the club through a powerful arc that will send the ball on the right flight path to reach the target.

For more detail on this important subject, check out:

  • Every Shot Must Have a Purpose, Pia Lindstrom and Lynn Marriott. (Reviewed in an earlier posting.)
  • Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz. Choose the original version, not the “New” nor the “2005” editions. My first sub-80 round came immediately after I read this book.
  • My next podcast. I’ll have a lot more to say on this important fundamental.

So, I’ve committed myself to three fundamentals so far…

  • A solid pre-shot routine that you can follow, without thinking about it, on each and every shot.
  • A visualization experience that is part of that routine. (There is also a post-shot version, but you’ll have to listen to the podcast to get it.)
  • A long-term belief in your potential and a commitment to not accept but, instead, to pay attention and to grow.

I’ll have more — a lot more — in upcoming essays.

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