MANAGING YOURSELF BETWEEN SHOTS
In a four-hour round of golf, how much time do you actually spend zoning in with your pre-shot routine and executing golf shots? Obviously, the answer is that the vast majority of your time on the golf course is spent between shots. And, during all that “free time,” what are you thinking about? You may find that you have too many negative thoughts, or too much excitement (which is usually a symptom of anticipation of results), or some golfers just give in to whatever crosses their mind. It’s important to know, since what you’re thinking about is going to affect your game. So, it makes sense to examine how your mind is engaged for the three-and-a-half hours “between shots.”
While there is a broad range of opinion, most experts agree that the worst thing to do while playing is to over-analyze multiple technicalities of your golf swing. That activity belongs on the practice range. This advice does not contradict the testimony of good golfers who report that they are continually making small adjustments during a round. If things are going well, it’s best to push analysis to the sidelines, and remain immersed in process, tempo, or even a favorite song. If things are not going so well, making a some small “adjustments” makes sense, along with making a re-commitment to focusing on process.
For most golfers, there is a lot of thinking that’s not helpful, but, having said that, it is not easy to control your mind. With a little introspection you will see that you have an inner voice talking to you all the time. This voice may be saying things like “stay in balance, don’t forget to shift your weight, don’t sway, move that ball back (or forward), don’t take away the club too inside, be sure to pause at the top, finish your swing, ease up on that grip pressure, slow down,” and so forth. You have a back-seat driver that’s hard to silence.
Who are those incessant, often critical, usually unhelpful parts of you, and how do we get them to quiet down so we can play better golf?” Let me tell you the value proposition here. If you can become aware of and then quiet down this back-seat driver, if you can start to focus your mind to some degree, your game will improve, and you will have gained a life skill that is even more valuable off the golf course. It’s not too much of a stretch to call this practice of mental management a form of “meditation.” What better place to practice meditation (let’s just call it that for the moment) than on the golf course. For all those people who say “I wish I could meditate but I just don’t have the time, how’s three and a half hours every time you play golf?
If the term “meditation” strikes you as somewhat irrelevant to your golf goals (whatever they are), then frame this practice instead in terms of cutting-edge performance psychology. We all start with voices that keep our mind scattered, sometimes, fearful, usually living in the past (you should have seen how great I played this hole yesterday) or the future (one more par and I’ll close out this match). Once you start to watch your mind, I guarantee you will have the odd experience that you’re not in charge of your own thinking. Golf is a wonderful place to start to cultivate an alternative mental process which will allow you to play with less concern for score (yet you will score better), less concern for where the ball goes (yet you will keep the ball out of trouble more often), and less concern for other distractions such as the gamesmanship of your opponents, or the weather conditions.
So, what will you do instead? What is the “practice?” The simplest advice is currently called “mindfulness.” Basic mindfulness instruction often starts by asking us to focus on the present moment only, often by tuning into current sensations (like sensing the pressure of your feet on the ground, or the breeze against your skin, or some visual details of nature around you.) Classic mindfulness practice always suggests focusing on the sensations associated with breathing. Whatever mindfulness path you choose, expect to find it hard to maintain the focus for very long. In any case, this effort of mindful engagement will displace and be more helpful than listening to that back-seat driver telling you “watch out for this downhill lie…last time you topped it. And you’re likely to do that again.”
Soon enough you will happen on your golf ball – at which time you can start up your pre-shot routine and the analysis of the factors you will take into account with your swing. And then, before you know it, you’re made that swing and you’re right back with yourself.
So, what is the “practice of golf?” Perhaps it can take on a different meaning as the “game of golf” becomes the “art of golf.” Some of the markers of progress in golf then become your ability to be present in the moment, to remain balanced, to trust who you are (who we really are right now, not who we want to be or not be.) The rest will take care of itself. No time to meditate you say? Golf provides hours of opportunity to practice and to develop skills for better golf and a better life.