I had coffee yesterday with a woman who’s an event planner. She puts together travel packages and special events for companies and organizations designed to bring people closer together.
But it’s not just a cookie-cutter operation. It is crafting unique experiences designed to draw people out of their workaday, hum-drum shells and out into the light, the light of an unfettered world, the light emanating from other people, the light from themselves.
So as part of a package she put together, there was a hole-in-one contest. I don’t know any of the particulars, but, paraphrasing, here’s what she told me:
I put together this hole-in-one contest. And when it was my turn, I got up there and I was just so filled with the joy of the moment, the beautiful day, the way the sun was on the mountains, the other people. And I just looked out there at that hole and I swung and it went in the hole. I didn’t even know how to hold the thing: hole-in-one.
In recalling her moment, she wore this blissful smile, her face flushed with color, her eyes danced in the memory.
That isn’t routinely replicable, of course, but what made it possible was that she was connected to her spiritual essence and all of her unskilled physical movements were ordered by her attention on the target. She didn’t have anything else to rely on.
This is the childlike innocence that makes for great golf in experienced golfers too. Before they become too self-conscious, kids are capable of amazing feats because they’re just into the feat and not bound up by all the psychological baggage that we adults drag around. They approach things with inquisitiveness instead of fear, with a sense of wonder about this new thing and an innate drive to succeed, “Let me do it! Let me do it!”
We can see those same attributes engendered in our own games by detaching ourselves from the physical and focusing on the target. The best way to experience this is by putting while looking at the hole. Set up a straight, 6-foot putt. Take a couple of practice strokes looking at the hole, feeling your body relaxing. Step up to the ball, center the putter behind the ball, rotate your eyes back to the hole…and putt.
The first couple of times, you may experience a burble of exhilaration. That’s just the instinctive fear of giving up control. “How can this possibly go in the hole unless I make it go in the hole?” But in less than a dozen balls or so, with your eyes riveted on the hole, ball after ball will go right in the center of the hole, all from freedom and intention. Try it from 8, 10 and 12 feet.
There have been some Tour players who have putted looking at the hole, but I think it was because they’d been introduced to the effectiveness of this little drill and thought it was the secret. But the secret is not in looking at the hole, it’s in the intention to put the ball in the hole. If you don’t know that, you’ll soon assume that this was just another cheap parlor trick; time to go back to controlling. But if you tenaciously cling to that sense of freedom the drill induces, you can order your intention with two strokes looking intently at the hole and then with your peripheral vision as you conventionally look at the ball while you stroke it. You don’t need to look at the hole.
The same is true in the short game. It’s hard to look at the hole on a 35-foot chip shot because the physical motion is bigger and it’s easy to get disoriented, even slightly lose your balance. And it’s a little different here because you want to be looking at where you want the ball to land and then let your gaze run to the hole so your body can gauge how hard to hit it and on what trajectory. Here too, during the shot, you look at the ball and use your peripheral vision to keep your intention on the spot.
And it’s the same for all forms of the shot: the traditional bump-and-run that just carries onto the green and runs to the hole like a putt, the little pitch shot that carries halfway to the hole and then runs like a putt or the flop shot that floats high and comes straight down near the hole. It’s all about freedom and intention.
The issues are the same in the full swing, but more important there, because nowhere else do we become so swing-bound. But after a couple of intent looks at the target to align your body, if you can hold the target in your mind’s eye throughout the swing, your body will find a way to hit it there. If your mind’s eye snaps back into the bubble of your swing, you introduce disjointed inefficiencies from trying to hit the ball.
It takes practice, to be sure, but it’s different than working on your swing. When you’re working on generating a feeling in your swing on the range, it’s okay to be in your swing bubble. But to get the best out of that swing, you want to practice holding your span of attention so that your mind doesn’t snap to swing details when you play. To anyone watching, it will look like the same thing. Clinging to the target in your mind’s eye, you’ll be the only one who will know that it’s not.
It’s the reason that the sequential mnemonic for being in the present, target, ball, club, body, always starts with target. And once you learn to stay focused on the target and play the game from your spiritual essence, the only thing you’ll have to manage is your giddiness.