Years ago, I read Golf in the Kingdom, by Michael Murphy. Murphy is the co-founder of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I’ve done a lot of reading about what goes on there, but the thing that really sticks in my mind about Esalen is the fact that Richard Feynman, one of my favorite human beings in the history of the universe, spent a good bit of time there. If it was interesting to Feynman, then it’s interesting, period, so I paid attention.
Anyway, Golf in the Kingdom is Murphy’s fictional account of a round of golf with a mythical Scottish golf pro/Zen master (of sorts) named Shivas Irons. Having played a shitload of golf in my time, I immediately identified with just about everything related to Murphy’s mental struggles with the game.
The worst thing that can happen to you when you’ve addressed a golf ball and you’re about to swing is thinking. When my game goes to shit, thinking is my biggest problem. I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and I shoot in the 70’s when I’m at it regularly – and practicing every day – so my swing is essentially pretty sound. I don’t have to learn how to hit the ball, because I’ve already spent years learning how to do that.
The problems come flying at me when I step up to the ball and my mind isn’t a blank. This starts with excessive technical analysis. Swing thoughts. I have a few that have worked for me over the years, but when a round starts going to shit, I’ll think of all of them at the same time:
Grip it lightly, anchor your back instep, lead with the butt of your bottom hand, draw the club straight back, don’t flatten out, head behind the ball, tempo, tempo, tempo...
When this happens, I know I’m lost, and when I know I’m lost, that’s when all the negativity comes creeping in. As much as I’ve played in my life, and as much time as I’ve spent practicing and trying to dig the game out of the earth, there are times where I’ll stand over the ball and know I have no fucking chance in hell to hit a decent shot – and that’s all I can think about.
Shit, sometimes I’ll make sure I have an extra mulligan ball in my pocket before I even get on the damned tee, because I know my first one’s going in the woods.
In Golf in the Kingdom, Murphy has this exact conversation with Shivas Irons, and the pro offers him the best advice I’ve ever heard for moments when negative thoughts are pummeling your ass like a meteor shower, the way mine are right now about a certain situation I’m currently in:
“Wait ‘em oot.”
I remembered this the other day when I started getting all flustered about things, and I was tempted to go out and make some hasty, ill-advised decisions. I stopped for a few minutes and waited for the shitstorm to pass and get out of my head, and then I went about things with a clear head for once. That’s what I’m doing right now – waiting it out, and not taking any action while I’m doubled over and the self-inflicted kicking and punching is going on.
I’m sorry for the melodrama, but like I’ve said before, it’s not like any of you are paying for subscriptions.
Also, thanks for the emails. Quite often, when someone has a blog and they’re going through some sort of bullshit, they’ll slant the story to make it look like they’re the hero, telling you how badly they’re getting “screwed” in whatever situation compelled them to write. Then you’ll see fifty comments from supportive readers who are naturally biased toward the side of the person who writes the blog.
This isn’t the case here. I don’t deserve your support in this instance. I acted like an asshole for a prolonged period of time, and I’m getting my just desserts. It sucks, but it is what it is, and I have to eat it for now.