The Fifteenth Club

  • You’re on the par 3 seventh, water all down the right side. To compensate, you aim well left; sometimes that helps you to stay dry. Not today. Another ball gone west.
  • The 370-yard par 4 sixteenth is the easiest hole on the course. Birdies are not uncommon here. Today, however, you miss a short birdie putt. Then, still annoyed, you miss the 12-inch par putt.
  • It’s a beautiful early morning.You plan on a quick round then home to spend Saturday with the kids. But your foursome had a cancellation and the slowest member of the club is in with your group. To compensate for the snail’s pace, you’re rushing your shots and wrecking your round.

You have no club in your bag to help in these circumstances. Yet you could have: meditation could be the invisible fifteenth club that helps you play better with the other fourteen.

More focus, less stress

Daily meditation can be as helpful to you as a session at the range. It can help you to focus, to concentrate. Meditation can help slow your thoughts down after an incredible shot (bad or good). It can assist you in visualizing your next shot. Critically, daily meditation is believed to strengthen the decision-making part of the brain. It helps you make better decisions under stress.

In fact, the simple act of visualizing the good shots, the ones you got right, can improve your game if you do it regularly. Try it some time (but not behind the wheel). Find a quiet moment to empty your mind of all thoughts, then fill it with the memory of one of your best shots. Remember the feel. Hear the sound. Picture that perfect trajectory.

In the course of researching my novel Ang Tak, I discovered that golfers use meditation techniques to give themselves that extra “club” for the times when you want to throw one or break it over your knee. That Tiger Woods learned how to meditate from his mother is common knowledge. But Y.E. Yang, who won the 2009 PGA, also meditates, as do many Asian golfers.

Staying in the moment

When you learn to meditate, you learn how to reduce the stress of a bad shot by embracing it. You don’t deny it, you don’t agonize over it, you don’t start listing all the things you did or did not do. Instead,  you accept that it happened and move on, immediately. You forget that shot and set about finding a solution. It’s history. Your next shot is what fills your mind now. It’s called staying in the moment.

Learning to meditate doesn’t mean you don’t get angry. On the contrary, it means you face your anger and accept it. If you’re able to meditate as you play, then you’ll focus on something like your breath, and try to clear other thoughts from your mind. If you’ve practiced this a while, you may find that this simple technique alone helps to calm you.

Meditation can teach you patience and–in a sport characterized by chronic discontent—it can teach you to find a measure of contentment, if not in your game then in the other components of your round: the weather, the course or your companions.

It’s been written that golf, like meditation, is a journey—a journey toward the perfect swing, the perfect round. It’s also been written that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. If that is so, then perhaps meditation can teach us to enjoy the journey rather than postponing our pleasure until we arrive.

This article was written in spring 2012 after the publication of my novel, Ang Tak, set at the Masters.
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