Toss Me a Bone: Or why I’ve decided to let my golf mind think one thought

Toss Me a Bone: Or why I’ve decided to let my golf mind think one thought

In less than a month, I will reunite with about two dozen good friends from both sides of the Atlantic at Machrihanish Golf Club—an “ancient linksland shaped by God over the millenniums and tweaked by Old Tom Morris in the 1870s” (as I described it in my book). This will be my 15th annual pilgrimage to the Kintyre Peninsula. And, I have no doubt, it will once again be the highlight of my golf season.

Given the course, the setting, the Guinness, the single malt and—most importantly—the craic, a great time is guaranteed no matter how well I play. Yet, still, I do want to play well. In fact, it would thrill me to no end if, for that particular week, I were to play my best golf of the year. Or, what the heck, of my life.

Such things, however, can’t be orchestrated. They certainly can’t be forced. Perhaps, though, with the right mindset, I can nudge them in the right direction. It’s worth a shot.

One true authentic swing

And where is my mind at these days? When it focuses on golf, it seems determined to debate this question: Do each of us have one true golf swing that is authentically ours? And, as a follow-up, is our performance on the course a function of how determined we are to find and embrace that swing?

For those of you who have been following along at a distance, you’ll know I’ve been experimenting of late with playing golf completely devoid of swing thoughts…or any thoughts for that matter. It’s a radical concept for a game that virtually everyone insists is mental, even if there’s no denying that using a club to hit a ball is purely a physical act.

At times, I’ve managed to get completely out of my body’s way and it’s a deeply satisfying experience. But my mind is not so easily silenced. It insists on maintaining control, sometimes in subtle if not nefarious ways. And fortified by more than 40 years of training and conditioning, I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s virtually impossible to silence it—certainly not for the three-plus hours it takes to play a round of golf in Scotland (let alone the six-hour marathons that are all-too-common in the states).

To put it another way, my mind is akin to Winston, an adorable but relentless Cavalier King Charles puppy my wife and I brought home two months ago. Give him something acceptable to chew on and he’s a happy little camper. Withhold such an item and, guaranteed, he will search out and find an alternative. That is not acceptable.

The search for identity

Given this reality, and the fast-approaching reunion, I’ve come the conclusion that I need to toss my mind (and Winston!) a bone. I’m going to allow it to think one thought while I’m hitting a shot.

Connecting back to the question I posed above, if I do indeed have an authentic swing that is unique to me, can this lone thought help bring it forth?

The answer to this fundamental query (I’m talking about the search for identity here, folks) began to emerge last week when I got to play three times in four days. And what’s fascinating about all of this is that it seems to be leading me back to a setup and a swing that I can still recall from my youth, when I learned the game on my own via trial and error. Could this be my elusive authentic swing? After it’s all said and done, could I simply wind up right where I started? If so, it would mirror a round of golf. Which mirrors the circle of life. Which, for someone like me who craves symmetry, would be very cool.

What is this swing? I’m not sure I can describe the motion in words. Even if I could, I’m not sure I’d want to go there. Because what I’m talking about here is more feeling than positions. It’s a setup that feels locked in and secure. It’s a tempo that feels balanced and in control. It’s a release that feels full and complete, not held off or rushed through—what one of my oldest and dearest friends refers to as Mr. Slappy and Mr. Snappy. It’s a way of playing that feels, well, like coming home.

So that’s the feeling. But what about the one right thought I can feed my mind to, at minimum, keep it occupied and, at maximum, to actually have it contribute to the cause?

How about the mind as gatekeeper? Perhaps its job could be to tell my body, “I’m not going to let you pull the trigger until I sense you’re fully locked in with your authentic setup and swing. Anything less and it’s a no go.” In other words, awareness/feeling would rule before that moment of truth and it would monitor the flow once the club has been set into motion. But the mind could be like the starter of a race who sets everything into motion with the wave of a green flag.

Body and mind as equals

In this division of labor, both body and mind would have important roles to play. One would not be pitted against the other, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It’s not “body = good” and “mind = bad.” Rather, both sides would collaborate as equals in the pursuit of shared goals.

This has the ring of truth to me. And a brief test on the range on Sunday (before watching Mr. Snappy and Mr. Slappy derail Jordan Spieth’s date with destiny at Augusta National) proved encouraging. But reality will fully reveal itself on the course, hopefully starting tomorrow and continuing on the long and winding road to Machrihanish.

No matter what, the journey—in mind, body and soul—continues…

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