With the help of my good friend I was beginning to get my golf game together, a fiercely technical game involving lengthy checklists and physical adjustments in pursuit of a perfect swing hitting the ball in the sweet spot.
While all of us have the capacity to make the necessary adjustments, our mind tends to look at this accumulation and arrangements as a strenuous task. Significant doubt enters us and we collapse completely or over compensate and usually end up duffing the shot. Stanford graduate, Micheal Murphy says in his book ‘Golf in The Kingdom’ “You try too hard and think too much"
Golf, like any other game is easy once you have perfected the basics - and so our game is lost mostly in the mind. When we are relaxed, our body naturally achieves optimum muscular and skeletal motions in what ever activity we undertake; in running - lean forward and let gravity do the work, in swimming - keep your head down and let the water carry you body. In the same way, use the laws of nature with your golf swing. Many times, I have watched wanabee golfers choking the golf club, grimacing, wincing and tensing up with such fear as if they were facing a ferocious lion in the Coliseum. Murphy remembers a Scottish pro telling him “Why don't ye go wi’ your pretty swing? Let nothingness enter into your shots"
One of golf's all time greats, Ben Hogan once said ‘the slower the back swing the greater the distance’. In other words - relax and don't go to kill the ball.
In his book, The inner game of Golf, Gallwey says “Our muscles don't understand English", and “The secret to increasing control over our bodies lies in gaining some measure of control over our minds". Gallwey's book illustrates as to how our minds approach to hitting the ball runs counter to the natural process.
Theory is great and at times, we can talk up great shots and super golf, however practice is something else. On one occasion, I went to the driving range where I spent the afternoon hitting a large bucket of golf balls from ‘in the zone’. I. e.being completely relaxed and not thinking or analysing my every movement. Our awareness should be so developed that we should be able to hit a ball with our eyes shut, however, that's another day for me. On this particular day, I parked to oneside my ‘pilot in the cockpit’ checklist and instead focused my attention on being aware at all times where the club head was and its path through the air from addressing the ball, back swing, down swing, contact and follow through. Coaches call this the “plane". The revelation for me was nothing to do with my stance, handgrip and so on but allowing my body to naturally flow from beginning to the end of the shot and allowing the golf club do what it was designed to do - not forcing anything.
That afternoon of joy and delight, shot after shot, effortless - staying ‘In the zone’ is altogether another story and this is where the mind comes into play, or more to the point should ‘go out of the play’.
Sri Chinmoy, the world renowned and accomplished sportsman and meditation teacher says that "if we can quieten the mind, our awareness of our body and environment increases immensely". Having meditated for a number of years as a student of Sri Chinmoy, I quickly understood the benefits of meditation and found this task reasonably easy to achieve. He also says that we should not focus all of our attention on the result of our action but on the process itself. In looking ahead to the result, our mind creates doubt, fear and anxiety to the point where we doubt our own abilities. Similarly, in golf a common mistake with beginners is where we look up too early to see the result of our shot. As we hit the ball our head comes up immediately to see that ‘great shot we've just hit’. What's more likely to have happened is we lifted our left shoulder causing us to lean back slightly which shortens the flight path of the club head and so we top the ball, which then bumps and runs a few meters in front of us.
Be it golf or any other endeavour, when we relax, turn off the mind, and by becoming aware of every moment of our actions, we will enjoy the process. If we forget about the result, our mind does not get the opportunity to throw psychological banana skins in front of us.
Ambarish Keenan is an architect by profession. An avid sportsman, he enjoys combining is sporting and artistic endeavours with meditation, which he is learning under the guidance of noted teacher Sri Chinmoy