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A year ago I offered a column in this space advising golfers they can look forward to playing better golf by letting go of the many demons that are holding them back. Since then I have had feedback from many readers who shared their own stories. So I felt compelled to revisit, and expand on, what to do about those nasty demons.
First, we need to let go of the tension demon. Mental tension – namely nervousness and anxiety – leads to bodily tension. We need to understand that the biggest enemy of a solid, repeatable golf swing is nervous tension. Let’s be positive. Be relaxed. Breathe freely. Feel the joy in the game, rather than feeling you have to perform a certain way. In reality the golf swing is largely defined by “flow,” where there is movement and fluidity, while the game itself is beautified by wholeness, playing outdoors over 18 holes that take up roughly 200 acres of land. Keep it simple: You hit the ball, go find it and hit it again. It’s a game we play, not stress over.
Jinx, choke, pressure may be some of your demons. Each represents bad karma. Some would say that there is no such thig as mental “pressure.” Can you touch it? Can you measure it? They would challenge. Just ask a pro tour player standing over a 10-foot putt to secure his playing card for the next year. To me, that’s like saying there’s no such thing as depression, since you can’t put it under a microscope and look at it. From someone (me) who has played competitive sports for more than 70 years I can tell you pressure and the feeling it produces are real. As a sport shrink, I have watched grown men and women sob as they sit on my couch and talk about choking under pressure. Every player has his or her own demons to conquer.
Unless you try – really try – to become excellent in your endeavor, whether it’s golf, or playing the violin, you probably have not had to deal with demons. Achievers have the intense desire to succeed and win. It’s an insatiable drive that spawns demons of doubt and the urgency to let them go. It’s the need to rise above and embrace a goal. Slackers don’t have to deal with demons. The demons don’t much care about underachievers, those ne’er-do-wells who don’t bother living life with passion or purpose.
And there’s the irony.
If you lay your soul on the line, in whatever you do, you subject yourself to failure. Whether it’s failure by being beaten, or failure by bad luck, or failure by choking, it still painfully hurts. But it’s just a demon. Let it go.
As dedicated golfers we absolutely must let go of bad shots, bad holes and bad rounds. Bad things are going to happen to good golfers. Let’s take a horribly miss-hit shot to the green from an easy lie. It’s OK to experience anger and frustration for an instance, but then erase it and go on to the next shot. I may not hit every shot well, but I pride myself on being able to focus only on the shot I’m now facing, while forgetting about the lousy one. And my mantra is “never give up on a hole.” Those two disciplines have served me well. Mr. Hogan believed golf is a question of how good your misses are, and all shots are misses to some extent. When we play golf seriously we expose ourselves to mistakes – a lot of them. Don’t be a silly perfectionist. So let go of the tragedy but keep the lesson.