Chipping at Spanish Bay

Chipping at Spanish Bay 1-25-09

The philosophy of “less is more” is popular these days, but it may never be more apt than on the golf course when applied to the inner game. Sure, we all have to think, but it’s WHAT we think that makes the difference.

I think almost every golfer is familiar with the old axiom, “The mind doesn’t understand ‘don’t’,” as in “Don’t hit it in the lake.” When we think like that it’s scary as well as fascinating how predictable the results become.

Recently, I’ve had a tendency to pull the ball left; and the thought “Don’t pull it left” results in me leaving it right. Not good. Better to focus on the target, but at least I’m often aware of what little thoughts have crept into my mind and how they led to the unintended results.

Likewise, I’ve been working on cleaning up my act with regard to negative self talk. For example, I’m surprised how often I catch myself calling myself nasty little names when I hit a bad shot. That habit not only doesn’t help, but it has the effect of reinforcing a negative pattern of thoughts that undercuts my confidence.

I’ve learned that the first step to a success-reinforcing inner game is just to become aware of what’s going on between my ears, without judgment. But then, more importantly, I think we all need something positive that we can lean on.

An inspiring, positive thought that actually delights me came out of a recent  conversation with Dr. Joe Parent, author of Zen Golf, Zen Putting, and coach to PGA and LPGA Tour pros.

I shared with “Doc” some of the ways that I’ve found myself struggling with too much tension on the course. I have been frequently not swinging with ease, and in the case of a recent club championship, I simply got way too serious about my performance and I paid the price with one of my worst rounds in memory.

The good doctor prescribed a simple image. He asked me to think about a couple of young boys, maybe eight or ten years old, going for a walk in the woods. Inevitably, they would pick up some sticks along the way, right? And then, what would they do with those sticks? They would hit stuff with them. That’s what kids do when they are relaxed and having fun. At age 61, I can even remember how that felt.

“Kids hitting stuff with sticks.” That was the simple thought that Dr. Joe offered me, and I’ve found that it works as the perfect antidote to my tendency to take myself and this wonderful game of golf way too seriously.

It’s a little thing, something very simple. But just try it. Changing your attitude changes everything. Rather than worrying about pulling it left (or whatever), a little concept like “kids hitting stuff with sticks” has brought me closer to an attitude of going out and just having fun. I like another little thought of “just hit the ball” which makes things simpler, but the attitude of “kids hitting stuff with sticks” is even more fun.

Bottom line, when I’m having fun, like really just enjoying myself out there, I play better.

It’s as simple as that.

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This article was originally commissioned by Sierra Golfer magazine where my column is now called, “The Ambassador of Ease.” Written by Jon Leland. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. NOTE, ATTENTION GOLF MAGAZINES & WEBSITES: I’m looking for further distribution of my inner game columns.