A reader sent me this September 18, 2010 article, “A Game of Emotional Distress,” from the Wall Street Journal: http://tinyurl.com/25nhdu4 (Subscription may be required.)
It’s about the slump that Tiger Woods finds himself in with just two weeks to go until the Ryder Cup, what might have caused it and what to do about it. It revisits the famous slumps of Ian Baker-Finch, David Duval and Johnny Miller among others, but most especially the great Jack Nicklaus:
The most resonant precedent for Mr. Woods is Jack Nicklaus. In the book, Mr. Nicklaus blames laziness and complacency for his two major slumps. The first he snapped out of when his father died in 1970. The second he cured by returning in 1980, at age 39, to his longtime teacher, Jack Grout, and announcing, “My name is Jack Nicklaus and I’d like to learn how to play golf.” Together from scratch they built a new swing for Mr. Nicklaus—with which he won three more majors.
That’s the attitude Mr. Woods needs to take, says Jackie Burke, the two-time major winner and golf sage. “Slumps are caused by trying to bring yesterday forward,” he said. “But you’re not the same person you were yesterday, or two years ago, or four years. Golf is a game that changes and adjusts every day. You’ve got to go out every day and conquer that putting stroke again.”
Mr. Burke gives Mr. Woods credit for trying to go forward with his swing, rather than coasting, but he expressed doubts about the notion of changing teachers.
“You don’t even need a teacher,” Mr. Burke said. “You need to take yourself down to where you are nothing, where you are an obscure individual, and figure out how to work your way back up out of it.” The best ever at that was Ben Hogan, he said. The hardest challenge for Mr. Woods will be forgetting who he was.
It’s not clear whether the last sentence, “The hardest challenge for Mr. Woods will be forgetting who he was.”, was the author’s extended paraphrasing of Jackie Burke’s comment on Ben Hogan in the previous sentence or, more likely, the author’s literary device to contribute his own story-ending polish on Burke’s comments.
Whether it was Burke or the author, I think he was wrong. I don’t think you can ever forget who you are at your core. It’s the lifeboat.
Our spiritual essence is the kernel from which we emanate, the purest element of who we are. As I wrote in, “About This Zone Thing,” you can experience this part of you through meditation. Once you experience that unassailable, impervious purity, it’s a touchstone you can always return to in a mind-streak. You don’t need to meditate to get there, you just know it…and wonder why it took you so long…and why the world is suddenly populated with seekers who have been experiencing and writing about it for ages. At least that was true for me. It’s called going from unconsciousness to consciousness.
The reason this is such an important idea is because the spiritual essence is the foundation the ego builds its framework on, one personal experience at a time. While the spirit may have arrived unblemished, the ego is who we become in this world. While the intellect may drive our ambitions in life, it is the ego that manages our progress as manifested, for example, in our golf games. How you do anything is how you do everything.
When things are going well in golf, it’s the ego that feeds the ascent. We luxuriate in knowing we’re the longest driver in the foursome. We relish the crisp iron shot right at the pin, again! We experience exaltation when all our long lag putts effortlessly end up close to the hole. Golfers call it confidence.
But, when we get lost, it’s the ego that leads us astray, smothering our joyful, spiritual essence. It begins subtly and hardly noticed by us. We take our accomplishments for granted, so that when we practice, if we practice, our minds drift to other things. “Hey! I’m a multi-tasker!” And in time, the comprehensive knowing we have of our swings erodes. If we’re conscious, we can arrest it. I once so egregiously took my putting skill for granted that I didn’t give it the attention it warranted and barely hit a dozen putts before practice rounds. In time, my arrogance gave me a case of the yips and it took two months of rebuilding to rescue myself.
But if we’re not conscious, the vessel we’ve filled with our competencies slowly drains away. We begin to spray our shots because we haven’t maintained the kinesthetic compilation of our swings. Something is wrong, we can feel it. We wonder if others can see what we can feel in our swings. We wonder if they sense our discomfort and vulnerability. “Oh, Geez! I’m on the tee? I’ve got to play like this?” We wonder why we are unable to penetrate the sensory fog; what’s wrong with us? Golfers call this lack of confidence.
While the ego can be helpful at times, you come to realize that this angst and discomfort in life comes from the ego. There is the truth of the purity of our spiritual essence; all the rest is ego-clutter.
So Tiger doesn’t need to forget who he was, he needs to remember who he is…and then use his God-given talent, irrespective of the coach he uses to help him, to fill his vessel again. Golf games come and golf games go, but the way to work on them is always from knowing at your core who you really are, that you are capable of it and that, with patience, you will find your way.