When I started playing golf again about 10 years ago I turned to golf magazines and books in search of guidance to help me unleash my golfing potential.
Boy, was I disappointed. It seemed like every new article I read contradicted the last one. I was all over the place, almost literally tying myself in knots. It was horribly frustrating and as time progressed I approached each swing with an ever expanding checklist of things I had to remember.
When I hit a good shot I felt happy and relieved. When I hit a bad shot I immediately went through my mental checklist trying to figure out what piece of instruction I had forgotten, believing that to be the reason for the bad shot.
Having found what I thought was the missing piece I would then focus on that particular swing thought for the next shot.
It was an exhausting process, and I often felt a sense of relief if I just managed to get through a round reasonably intact and without a disastrous score.
I played this “swing thought” game for a while until I learned to trust that if I just stopped listening to the voices in my head (no matter how helpful they appeared to be) everything would be fine.
When I do golf mental game coaching, I help golfers experience the space between their thoughts. They often experience a wide-open silence in their mind, uncluttered by “I need to…” or “Don’t forget to…” instructions. As they stand over the ball I intruct them to, “Swing from the emptiness“.
The results can be breathtaking, and at times even moving. One pro told me that for the first time on a golf course he wasn’t thinking, his head was quiet, and he “knew” his shots before he hit them. He felt free and experienced a level of integration he had not known since he was a boy, hitting balls for fun in a local field.
The first time I had that experience was a real eye-opener. I was playing with a friend and we were on the 6th green at a course in near the Ochil Hills in Scotland. I was about 35 feet from the hole. There was an absolute certainty that the ball was going to drop – it was almost like it was pre-destined. My job was just to help it happen.
Sure enough, I hit the shot, the ball rolled beautifully, and landed in the cup. My playing partner went wild – “That was an amazing putt.” I agreed, but didn’t feel I could in all honesty take any credit, as it seemed like the putt had very little to do with me, magnificent as it was.
This is one of the many mysteries that golf can help us experience, and even for golfers who don’t think too deeply about the game, I’m sure at some level it’s what keeps us coming back and compels us to pick up our clubs again and again.
It’s akin to a quest – we know there is something special to be discovered, and if we just keep looking a little bit longer – perhaps…
The best way to enter the inner mysteries of golf is with a quiet mind, patience, and to drop our arrogance and have the humility to allow the game to play with us, rather than have us try and conquer it. Then we open up a space to experience magic, free of the trying, constraint and tightness of holding our mind full of technical instruction.