First off, this will be a long post. But it’s so important that I’m not going to cut it short – I figure if golf improvement is important to you you’ll read every word. What am I on about?
I’m going to share with you a two-page comment I received from Luke – and it could be some of the best stuff I’ve ever read on the golf improvement process. I’ll sprinkle some of my ideas throughout but for the most part I’ll leave Luke’s words to speak to you – they certainly did to me.
It’s been nearly a year since I posted the above and so I thought I would give you an update – it’s certainly been an interesting year. Firstly, I’m happy to say that I stayed good on my vow of throwing technique out the window and staying away from all the internet forums and instructional rubbish. I did indeed go out and rip it the way I promised and immediately things began to turn around for me. I hit the ball a lot better and the game was very quickly fun again. I won a pairs competition with my Dad in the summer and although I didn’t perform exceptionally in the singles comps or get my handicap reduced, I did perform okay in them and on the whole it felt good just to feel like I could compete again, hit some good shots and generally not look like I’d never played the game in my life! However, it’s in the past few months over the winter off-season that things have really accelerated. Let me share a few of my thoughts.
Firstly, although I was no longer focused on technique and was hitting the ball better, I realised that I was still spending half of my life obsessing about the game, mulling over my latest round, being too results orientated and generally still being a bit miserable about something that was supposed to be fun. In short, though I had stopped with all the swing analysis, I was still obsessing about finding ways to improve and had started to go down some other paths. In particular I was focussing very hard on developing a pre-shot routine and thinking the right way on the golf course (via the Bob Rotella method).
CS: This is such an important paragraph. I wish I had the brains/foresight to have shared this with everyone earlier. Just because you’ve stopped thinking about your technique, doesn’t mean you can hatch on the mental part of the game (or your equipment etc).
I began to fall in to the other major trap of the modern golf industry – I was trying to think myself to a better game. On top of this I was trying to micro-manage every aspect of my game and my preparation like a professional does and generally spending way too much time worrying about nothing. Though I was playing a lot better than when I was trying to change my swing, I began to realise I still wasn’t there yet – my game was still full of ‘try’ and my sense of well being was still way too dependent on my results.
CS: This also knocked me over. I’ve been working on some new stuff that revolves around getting the most from your game with the least amount of work. Micromanaging is not helping us – despite what we think. There is an easier way to play golf (and all skills for that matter).
In its own way, this approach had started to become just as constricting as the technical over-analysis approach. Fortunately some cool things were happening away from the golf course. I met a girl and she has become a huge part of my life. We are currently looking for somewhere to live together. I became an uncle for the first time. Two of my best friends got married and I was asked to be best man. I also started to drift back to some of my other fun pass-times and hobbies that had gotten lost during my golfing journey, such as collecting and making music. Without getting all preachy and dramatic about discovering some new found meaning and respect for life (!), all this meant that golf began to take a bit of a backseat.
CS: Another profound passage. We tend to take golf too seriously and I suspect that those that struggle with automatic golf still miss the point of letting go and not trying so damn hard.
I was still playing as often as I could but when I wasn’t at the golf course, my spare time was no longer consumed with thoughts of golf. Basically, I got a life. And then something amazing began to happen. I was turning up for my once weekly Saturday game (all that can be done in a British winter!) and I started playing the best golf of my life. The last few months I have consistently week to week played some brilliant golf. My level has dropped slightly for the odd round, but only slightly and on those days I was still able to compete and get something out of the round. Everyone I’ve played against has been showering me with similar compliments, i.e. “I’ll be watching out for you this season”, “Your current handicap is a joke”, “Where the hell have you been?!” etc etc. There is no glaring weakness in my game – every department has looked good at times. Driving, irons, short game, putting. It’s all there.
CS: This was almost like I was reading my own story. I was soooo serious, some would say still am, but eventually learned to ease off. I too got a life and saw an improvement in my game. It was almost ridiculous to drive to the course on a Saturday morning and play better than I had for the previous 10 years. All this despite no practice or any other serious preparation.
Here’s what I think has happened. I no longer have a system. I don’t think about my swing. I just decide what I want to do and hit it. I don’t have a set pre-shot routine. I just get to the ball and do whatever the next shot calls for. Sometimes I have 3 or 4 practice swings to get a feel. Sometimes I have none. Sometimes I’m thinking about the programme I watched on TV last night. Sometimes I’m thinking about where I want to hit it. Sometimes I’m still talking to a playing partner when I take the club back. Sometimes I even fart! I don’t try and control my thoughts any more. I just accept the good and the bad and get on with it.
CS: This is a system and I call it automatic golf. There has to be room in there somewhere for you to be yourself. We are not robots and we MUST allow ourselves to be human. A huge downfall of my teaching so far is that golfers still think too much and struggle to let go. What better way to approach golf then to let off a fart! Love it.
There is no ‘try’ in my game anymore, I just ‘do’ and if it goes wrong as it sometimes does and always will in such a fickle game, then so be it. I don’t care whether people think I’m a good player or a bad player. I have no targets anymore. I’m not bothered about my score. I’m not trying to improve. I don’t spend days at work plotting on ways to improve my game and trawling the internet for golfing secrets or stories of amazing improvement. The night before a game, I’m not putting up and down the living room for three hours and generally dreading the thought that I might play badly the next day. I’ve filled my life with other things and yet I’m loving golf more than I have for years. But I’ve found a way to leave it alone, to let it be. I’m looking forward to having a good season but if I don’t, then it’ll be okay. I don’t play this game for a living and there are other more important things in life.
CS: This too reminded me of me. It’s easy to say, “stop trying” but it’s not so easy to really “get it”. You have to learn it the hard way and I don’t think there are better words then what Luke has written.
One thing I have noticed is that all of the best golfers at our club almost without exception also seem to be the most content, relaxed, confident and sociable. They don’t live at the driving range. They just play when they feel like it. You never catch them walking around scowling or angry about their form or their latest round. They just do what they do and are never worried about trying to prove anything or impress anyone.
CS: My experience is a little different here. The lowest handicap players I’ve seen are generally not the best people to be around. They are self-obsessed and not really that good of players anyway. But, real masters, and it doesn’t matter if they are pro, scratch markers or play off 25, have got the game sorted out. They are the most fun and provide the best entertainment.
So, perhaps this is a bit of a contradiction to everything I’ve just said, but I do have some targets for my golfing year and I think you’ll like them. They are:
• To not bother practicing and just play golf when it’s time to play golf. When my round is done, it’s done.
• To continue to not care about results, improvement, handicap etc…
• To continue to realise that golf is just a game that I play in my spare time. It’s not my job. My job is boring so why make golf the same way?
• To continue not to have any expectation at all. It would be easy to let my current form go to my head and begin to expect magic to happen this year. I’ve learnt enough now however to realise that if I did that, things would likely go sideways again. The pressure would be back on and I would be trying again. The golfing journey never ends. Form is never permanent. You’ll never get to a point where it will be set in stone that you’ll be a good golfer forevermore. There’s always another day. Just play.
• Enjoy it. That’s the point right?
CS: Maybe we should all write these down? It’s good to have goals we can control and it doesn’t always have to be about winning, shooting a low score or dropping handicap. And the most ironic thing is this – when we stop caring about all that fickle stuff we play better. It really is a stupid game.
I realise that not everything here fits exactly with the minor details of your system for automatic golf but it was your blog that got me started on this path and you are as close as I have found to a coach who actually stands up and delivers what I have come to believe is the true secret of golf.
CS: Luke – I think you are almost describing automatic golf (in want of a better term – it almost seems silly to label it after reviewing your comments). You’ve added something very meaningful to the debate here and helped clarify many things for me (and hopefully many others).
And if my story can help just 1 hapless, confused golfer, then I’ll be happy. There are many people who claim to have found a secret to golf. Thousands of people still agonise over what Hogan’s secret may have been to cite just one example, but I have stumbled on my own secret. It’s not one the golfing industry would like in any way at all and it’s one that many people may find hard to accept and implement as it goes against everything we are taught, i.e. that to get something we must try really hard, make big sacrifices, beat ourselves up and be miserable when we fail. But you must put all that to one side and have the courage to let go, because my secret is this:
“The easiest way to be good at golf is to not give a sh*t”.
That’s it. Happy golfing everyone…
CS: If that last paragraph doesn’t stir something inside you and make you want to swing a golf club just for the fun of it, then maybe you’re here for the wrong reasons.
I’d like to thank Luke for taking the time to share such an inspired piece – something that can only come when you’ve experienced the magic of playing golf. I think he has summed up the real meaning of what it is to play more and think less. Please leave your thoughts below…