I’m standing on the 17th tee at Kingsley Club, with one of my biggest golf goals in hand – I am 1-under and just two holes away from breaking par for the first time since I was 18.
The thought of achieving that milestone, as well as telling my coach about it, crossed my mind and lingered for a moment. Part of me knew that it was a bad idea to be entertaining those thoughts as I stood behind the ball to select a target, but I could not help it. “Stay in the moment and play just this shot,” I told myself. It was too late though – the damage had been done. A double bogey later, followed by a par at 18, and I finished +1. Breaking par would have to wait.
I should have known better. Not because I have received the coaching, or read the books about the mental side of the game. I should have known better because, earlier in that same round, the golf Gods fired a warning shot across my bow. After solidly making birdie on the first two holes, my brain temporarily went on TILT with the possibilities. I completely lost track of where I was in the moment and made an ugly double on 3. Slap in the face. Back to the reality of the work at hand.
It took me just 13 holes to forget the warning. And so it goes with the mind of the golfer – at least this golfer. Perhaps some are born with a more focused, or focusable, mind than mine. To quote Jack Nicklaus from his autobiography My Story:
“Beyond good hand-eye coordination, perhaps my greatest inherent gift in regard to golf is the ability to compartmentalize my mind, to switch it at will totally from one activity or concern to another, then, for the required duration of the new focus, blank everything else out 100 percent…At golf then, and particularly when I am playing well in an event that means much to me, I can wrap myself in a cocoon that is virtually impregnable until the round ends and it becomes time to click the switch to another activity.”
Jack was well-known for getting into that mental zone, as have all of golf’s greatest champions. Even so, he describes earlier in his memoir the difficulties he had with thinking too far ahead about his quest to complete the modern Grand Slam, and how that projection into the future cost him.
It would appear that even those with the “greatest inherent gifts” still have to consciously wrestle with the chaotic beast between their ears at times. A comforting realization that, along with the experience I gained at Kingsley, makes me much more likely to bring that under-par round all the way home soon.