Target, Ball, Club, Body

So you come into the week at the Open at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California, knowing that you have three tournaments to go to save your Tour card…and 69 of the 132 players in the field shoot even par or less in the first round with 13 of them shooting 4-under or better. Jeez.

You see that Rocco Mediate leads at 7-under shooting a 64 that included a hole-in-one. A hole-in-one. A fluke at 190 yards, but a hole-in-one nonetheless and an instantaneous 2-shot edge on the field. And the satisfaction of writing down a “1” on the scorecard. A “1.” It looks so out of character sticking out on the scorecard like that with just its straight-line symmetry; no curves, no sudden changes of direction. A straight up and down line, a slash, a slash into the spirit of the field. 

So you’re sitting back in the hotel that night looking at the leaderboard on your laptop, taking this all in, and you’re 2-over. What do you do? 

First of all, you let go of all of the drama coursing through your mind and you go back to the only thing that will get you what you want: a still quiet mind emanating from your very essence with a gauzy focus on the four things that matter: target, ball, club, body. In that order. 

You know that the target orders everything. That it has this magical enabling quality that causes the ball to be drawn to it. That it is a cosmic magnet of attention and focus on your mind and a compiler of body parts and motion. You know that when you’re on and the target’s in your mind, you swing…and look up in the sky to discover the ball heading straight for it. It’s magic. 

You know that the ball, for its part, just sits there still and indifferent until you call it into action. It’s not some fast ball coming at you at 95 miles per hour or a sideline spiral just at the edge of your reach. It’s white. And it sparkles in bright sunlight. You’ve seen its four sparkles, when you took the time to focus your gaze and really look. 

You know that the tricky thing about the ball is that it is best viewed, not as a destination for the club but, as a sort of waypoint guide for the arc of an accelerating golf swing. You know that it gets in the way of your swing, it doesn’t stop it, and that being “ball bound,” even slightly, deflects the flow of your swing, slowing it down. 

And the club. What a misnomer from what’s really required. Maybe it should have been called the “swisher,” or maybe “flicker,” to capture the transient nature of how the clubhead moves through the ball, not at the ball. You know that the shaft and grip and all that doesn’t matter all that much, it’s the clubhead. It’s the clubhead because you’ve seen the high-quality, idiosyncratic swings on Tour that work: you would never grip it like Paul Azinger does or loop it like Jim Furyk does or flatten it like Matt Kuchar does. But it works for them and are perfect expressions of how their bodies deem it necessary to hit the ball where they’re looking. So you take comfort in what you can do with your swing knowing that it’s not necessary for it to be some textbook version of perfection. 

You remember once thinking of your body as a bystander to your swing, animating it, but off to the side of the Ferris wheel as a sort of mysterious, cellular mass capable of magic. You remember watching the episode of, Playing Lessons From the Pros, with Geoff Ogilvy on the Golf Channel, fascinated that he’s such an intuitive player who doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on “correctness.” And that at one point in the show, he said something like, “Well, I just look at the hole and if it looks like I should hit a cut, I hit a cut. And if it looks like I should hit a draw, I hit a draw. I always let the target dictate the shot.” Magic. 

You heard Brandel Chamblee’s comment on the evening’s re-broadcast. He was talking about the incongruous difficulty that Henrick Stenson is having with his swing. He’s 30th on Tour in Driving Accuracy, but only 180th in Greens in Regulations, meaning that there is something wrong with his iron play. He’s driving it well, why can’t he hit the green with the same swing? 

Chamblee says that since the swing was working well with the driver, perhaps there was something wrong with his irons, maybe mis-fit in some way. And then he says, “Sometimes when you’re lost like that, you have to go home. The great Ben Hogan once said, ‘When you can’t find it, you have to go home.’” Meaning that unearthing fundamental inefficiencies in your swing is best done in quiet solitude, not the bright klieg lights of a Tour event. 

But there you are, relaxing on the hotel bed in your underwear and you’re 2-over. You know that you have to somehow re-create the quiet solitude of home and just let yourself play. Let yourself see the target and let your body hit it there. Like at home. 

You know that all the rest is mind-clutter that has to be abandoned in the far reaches of your awareness. 

Target, ball, club, body and the certainty that you’ve integrated it all before and you can do it again. 

And you notice that Henrick Stenson shot 4-under on the day, proving the point.

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