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On Friday, January 12, 2007, at the height of the morning rush hour in Washington D.C., one of the most famous social experiments was conducted. Near the entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro subway station, a violinist positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket, and from a small case removed his violin (a Stradivarius made in 1713 and valued at $3.5 million) and placed the open case at his feet, shrewdly throwing in a few dollars as seed money, and began to play.
In the next 43 minutes he proceeded to play six classical pieces. The violin player was Joshua Bell, arguably the world’s most foremost violin virtuoso (then and now). More than 1,000 people passed by Bell, almost all on their way to work. Most hardly noticed he was even there; fewer than 10 stopped to listen for more than a moment; only one recognized him. The stunt raised a multitude of controversial questions about the public’s awareness, perception, priorities, taste and even beauty itself. I mention it here in order to shed some light on the business of how we sense and process what is around us when we play golf.
In the famous words of the late Yogi Berra “you can observe a lot by watching.” So, how acutely do we observe things like the air temperature and humidity, the breeze for speed, direction, gust patterns and changes. Are we so focused in our little cocoon, like the passers-by in that subway station, that we don’t notice the many variables around us that affect our game? And what about the many aspects of the grass? The turf may be damp, moist, bone dry, soggy, uneven, thick, thin or other determinants of how our golf club contacts the surface and responds to the golf ball. How about the variety or strain of turf grass, with bluegrass, rye, fescue and Bermuda being the most prevalent types in our area. They each respond differently, especially Bermuda, which is green and full for six months and dormant and straw-like the other six months.
Let’s take putting and the conditions on and around the putting green. Higher handicap players don’t seem to notice the speed, grain or slope of the green as much as scratch golfers. They tend to be less aware of breaking and uphill or downhill putts. It could be they are less interested in practicing their putting. And there is much to process with the variation in the grass in the green surrounds, where you chip from, as well as the sand in the bunkers. Bunker sand can be dense, moist, hard, fluffy and muddy, all of which require an adjusted swing. The better your awareness, the better your choices; as you make better choices you will see better results.
We would probably be smart to pay far more attention to everything that is happening as we play. One of my first suggestions is you closely watch your shot after it is hit to process the flight, distance, trajectory, how it lands and how it rolls. A lot of golfers will hit a disappointing shot and quickly turn away in disgust. How can you learn anything from closing your eyes; don’t do that! You should also watch how other players in your group hit their shots. When watching the men’s and women’s tournaments on TV, pay attention to what they are doing and what the announcers are saying as it applies to your game; again, you can learn a lot just by watching. You can also learn a lot by reading the literature (magazines and columns), as well as online newsletters, posts and blogs, which often contain valuable lessons, videos and tips.
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.