Shaman on the Green
Once a month I am now the featured Golf pro writer in the local Sonoma county magazine The Upbeat Times. It is a great opportunity for me to continue sharing my philosophies and insights into the many different aspects of this great game of golf that we love to play. It also provides an excellent forum for me to focus on the teacher-student relationship and how that dynamic can help to inform the diverse community which I serve here in the Bay area and beyond. So keep your eyes on the prize and your ears to the ground because you never know what kind of magic and great fortune that might just be found.
A lot goes into growing attached to our golf clubs; time, energy, victories, defeats, blood, sweat and tears. But getting stuck in a comfort zone is not always as comforting as one might think, I have found this out the hard way recently. I knew I had been going against the grain of my own instincts for quite some time but I wasn't really paying attention to my inner voice. I never was happy visually with a center-shafted putter but I got stuck into using one because I liked the feel of the insert in the face of the putter. After three plus years I realized a change was in order. I went back to the old Rossie design of an offset putter with newer insert technology. The heel-shafted design was more of a true comfort zone but the mistake I made in placing the new putter in my bag was thinking that a new fatter grip would also be in order. After a few too many yips from putts inside of three feet I realized I had sacrificed feel for in vogue technology. I decided to go back to a smaller, more conventional sized putter grip and the change made all the difference in the world. Now I can feel the weight of the putter and it is much easier to release the putter head back through the impact zone with more precision and balance.
Trail and error will always be a part of the equipment-analysis process but we should always make sure to trust our instincts and not get sucked into something new just because its sexy but rather because it actually works to help lower our scores.
With the winter rains finally showing up in northern California the game of golf took a back seat and hung out for the show. This gave many of us a chance to reflect on the year's growth and identify areas of deficiency and progress. Being honest with ourselves is never easy especially if we don't like what we are seeing in the mirror. But if we are staying honest with ourselves we know what area of our game is lacking and where we need to focus our energies. Most of the time there are probably several areas of our game that need improvement and it all comes down to time and how much of it we are willing to commit to for practice and change.
Getting back to practicing on a more regular basis, at least once a week, can only help the cause. And of course working with a competent Instructor is also highly recommended if one is indeed serious about charting growth for their future. Life is ultimately a symbiotic universe and golf follows suit in that way as well. We can always learn from the immediate environment that surrounds us on a golf course at any given time. The challenges are both external and internal and being on a golf course is always a good place to practice one's ability to stay in the present moment.
And looking forward to a new year is never a bad thing. We have to paint a positive picture for ourselves because if we don't, who will? Keeping a strong routine in the realm of visualization is another first step in seeing that which we wish to become. If mediocrity is indeed the enemy of growth, than let us take no prisoners on that road to success.
As we age we are confronted by a whole host of challenges as far as our body is concerned. Proper body maintenance involves proper sleep, diet and exercise. Stretching for about 10 to 20 minutes prior to every round of golf is imperative if we wish to see better results on the course. I like to use specific Yoga and Tai Chi stretches/exercises which help to activate both lower and upper body centers. This grounding process helps to slow me down enough to feel a distinct spirit of relaxation throughout my entire body. By working with my breath I also get to feel a fluid rhythm which helps me to not get too jumpy or agitated. This breathing or mindful meditation infiltrates the cells of my body and gives me a better chance to establish an awareness of balance in both my physical and emotional bodies. When this bridge of awareness is functioning properly I am confident that my tempo will be steady and that steadiness and balance will inform the movement and rhythm of my golf swing. When we begin to feel the importance of the space between the notes, that is when meditation and body wisdom happen together, simultaneously; and the flow of our golf swing mirrors the perfection that we feel inside.
A lot of times when playing a round of golf we don't always put our best foot forward. We sometimes start by playing a poor front nine holes and losing our will or spirit to bounce back and recover. But we should try to go the extra mile by not losing our cool, our center and ultimately our composure because when we take some small amount of time to follow the breath, everything changes. We feel light again, fluid and open to changing our perspective. A good Zen priest is never ruled by his or her emotional body and neither should we. If we can be more connected to our breath on a regular basis the misfortunes of wayward shots or missed putts can be converted into the fortunes of a better balanced perspective as we forge ahead towards our next shot. Case in point: earlier today during a playing lesson with a student of mine I made a great putt from off the green to save par on the first hole, a par-5 at Fox-tail North. Then I proceeded to make 8 straight bogeys. I had 4 three-putts and was beginning to feel the frustration mounting. But I heard the voice of my intuition telling me to stay cool, hang in there, the tide will turn. And so it did and even though I made a few more painful bogeys on the back nine, I finished strong by birdieing both the 16th and 18th holes to finish with a one-over par score of 37 on the back nine. When we find the fortitude and inner calm to weather the storm, we can become the Alchemist on the Links by turning lead into gold. By staying in the present moment and recognizing the power and importance of the process, we can move into a higher zone of awareness and see the ground before us from an elevated perspective. This shifting of our focus is the beginning of a thousand-mile journey which begins with a single step, a single breath and a single-mindedness.
When we take the time to see a shot first in our mind's eye, it's a good first step. Executing the shot we see is another story. But a sound journey or vision should begin with a solid blueprint. A road-map to lead one forward with conviction. To employ a creative visualization process in the strategy of one's golf game is to give oneself the freedom to be the artist and not just the athlete on the links. The feel part of the game is both intuitive and intentional, not anything too mechanical. So for every single shot we face on any given day, we should take the time to "see" the shot, breathe the visual image into the cells of our body, and execute the shot. By giving ourselves permission to be the artist and not just the athlete we bring in a whole new dimension of awareness to inform and inspire our perceptions and experience of this great game.
Everyone wants to shoot lower scores. Nothing new there. But how many of us are really willing to practice our chipping, pitching, sand game and putting on a regular basis?
How many shots do most of us golfers lose each and every round due to laziness and sloppiness in these areas..? I would venture to think at least between 4 and 6 shots per round. If we spent half as much time working on our short game as we did our long game, we would probably notice a big difference in our scores sooner than later. Maybe because working on our lag putting or the three to four foot putting is not as sexy as trying to bash a drive 300 yards. So my advice is this; for every ten minutes you spend on the range working on your woods or irons you should spend at least five minutes working on your short game. Why are Touring pros so good? Not so much because they can drive the ball 300 yards but rather because they have learned how to get up and down in the process of recovering from bad shots. We all hit bad if not terrible shots from time to time but by thinking "recovery" and having built a solid practice routine around our short game we can begin to shift the tide of tragedy into the art of mastery. It is the practice of this delicate art which separates the pretenders from the contenders.
This was a daunting shot as I was facing a 15 mile per hour wind from the ocean from 162 yards out. There was a steep and nasty ravine just left of the green so a miss to the left was black hole central. I set the ball back in my stance with a seven-iron, hooded the face about two or three degrees, took an abbreviated back swing and finished my follow-through with low hands to the target. The ball came off the club-face nicely with a low, penetrating draw that kept the ball from getting chewed up by the wind. You are looking at the result, a shot which wound up nine feet from the pin. Keeping the ball under the wind is always a good strategy when playing links golf.