Psychology Versus Ontology

Thinking versus being.

In golf, I’ve had little use for psychology because, in the moment, you have to remember stuff. And in the swirl of high pressure situations, your mind doesn’t always work that well.

Because I’ve seen so many incredibly successful demonstrations of being, it’s pretty much what I’ve adopted as my platform when I play. When you are “being” a great player, your body follows along, reacting accordingly and there’s not a lot to think about.

To illustrate, here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Generating Miracles: A Spiritual Adventure on the Champions Tour. I was attempting to qualify at the Silverado Country Club in Napa, California, for the Transamerica. That tournament has since gone the way of the wind, but at the time, it was a very big deal. Trevino was at his apex on the Champions Tour and the tournament was routinely mobbed.

As Monday qualifiers, we never saw any of that unless we qualified, but the thing we did get to see was the tournament golf course. We routinely qualified on reasonable satellite courses, but not at Silverado. It was probably to save paying a separate course rental fee, but whatever it was, we got to play on a wonderful course that meandered through the oak studded hills of the wine country. But the best part was the greens: they were perfect. They putted like billiard tables. If you could see the line and putt the ball on it, it would go in. And I was a very good putter.

I had picked up a local caddie on the range. Not because I needed one—I’d played the course many times and knew it well—but because David was a good player in his own right and a couple of years away from making a run at the Champions Tour himself. A successful dentist in San Francisco, he begged me. Since my whole motivation was to be a stand in the world for the principles of mastery and transformation, I realized that if I didn’t take him on, I was just full of it. Besides, he had a one-day special; he was free.

After a sloppy front nine, we pick this up with my approach shot to the 10th green:

Trying to hit too delicate a shot into a green, my ball dropped into the front bunker. I made an adequate sand shot and then sank the putt from twelve feet, my sixth 1-putt in ten holes.

“How do you do that?” David asked incredulously.

“I’m the best putter in the world,” I answered.

As one of my playing partners was preparing to hit his shot, I sidled over to David and whispered, “I might not be the best putter in the world, but I just could be. And so I act like the best putter in the world, whether I am or not. But I might be. So as you watch all of my mannerisms and preparation, as you watch my way of being, I am “being” the best putter in the world when I’m putting.”

“You might be the best putter in the world,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “Thanks.”

And then I 3-putted the next green.

I end this chapter with the 3-putt story, not to exemplify what happens when hubris comes up, but because I did not let that 3-putt change the fact that I believe myself to be one of the best putters in the world—even if I’m not. I made three more 1-putts that day and just missed two more. When you are “being” the best putter in the world, you know that 3-putts are flukes and you just go on.

This is a vivid example of the principle of transformation: step into the role first and the “doing” follows to achieve your goal.

And while there would be no heroic comeback that day…

…I was the best putter in the world…there was still that.

The difference between thinking versus being is perfectly illustrated by this story. I wasn’t thinking about my putting stroke: my address position, my grip, which hand was leading, the path of the putter. I was just taking in everything in front of me and naturally reacting to it. It didn’t require any kind of checklist, any thoughts. It was just: see the hole, see the line, stroke the ball on the line.

All of this came up for me because I stumbled across a Golf Digest tweet with, of all things, a link to a 2004 article by Dr. Bob Rotella, Inside the Golfer’s Mind. Rotella is probably the preeminent sports psychologist on the Tour. He’s had a long history of books and successful Tour players. In the article he lays out a list of 10 things a player must do in competitive rounds.

As you go through this, I think you’ll see the strong bias towards thinking. Who can remember all of this stuff? But the difference is that with some of the items, he does use thinking to access a state of being, the key to good golf, to good anything.

The trick is to move beyond having to remember stuff and just play in a state of being that’s always there. Rotella’s article could be useful in seeing the difference and finding a way to get there.

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