HAPPINESS… IT MEANS different things to different people. Yet one thing we all tend to have in common is an unending, lifelong pursuit of it, whether in our everyday lives, in our workplaces, in our relationships, or on the golf course.
Finding that inner contentment has rarely been more challenging than right now, as the world finds itself immersed in a battle with a deadly, contagious virus.
At the time of writing, more than 120,000 deaths have already been attributed to the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus. Some expert opinions claim millions will succumb before the disease is finally eradicated.
The truth is, there’s so much we – including the experts – still don’t know about the virus, and that’s undoubtedly the scariest part of the disease.
Regardless of what is eventually discovered, the immediate fallout from the pandemic has been huge. Golf courses have been closed, along with restaurants, cafes, and pretty much anything else deemed non-essential.
Incredibly saddening, millions of people have lost their jobs. Social-distancing measures have been mandated by many governments, self-isolation and quarantining by others.
With so much negativity, fear and uncertainty in the world, well, it’s enough to make you go batsh*t crazy.
We’ve got some advice to not only help get you through unscathed, but to ensure you actually return a better golfer once courses reopen: Step 1: Breathe. Step 2: Repeat Step 1. Step 3: Read on.
DR JOE PARENT – psychologist to the stars and author of several mindfulness books including Zen Golf: Mastering The Mental Game says it’s important to keep perspective among the turmoil and use this time to prepare yourself for the best golf of your life.
“Even when things are really, really bad, you don’t want to downplay how bad they actually are, you don’t want to exaggerate how bad they are, but you definitely want to recognise everything changes; nothing stays the same,” Parent says.
“So any challenge that we have, like the terrible fires you were going through in Australia and this health crisis we’re going through now, it won’t last forever.”
While many of us view happiness solely as a destination, the good Doc believes it can also be a vehicle, and that golf can be a major driver to achieving it.
“You can work with your mental game, you can work with your mind to improve your golf, but I’ve got something interesting for you: what if you use golf to improve your mind?”
Golf to improve our minds, rather than use our minds to improve our golf. Interesting. Please, go on, Doc…
“Well, that was the purpose for writing Zen Golf. It was as much a life book as it was a golf book.”
While written back in 2002, Zen Golf could not be more applicable reading for today’s golfer during a time when courses are closed, people are caged in their homes, clubs are collecting dust in garages, and the next round of golf could be months away. At best.
And, people are afraid. So very afraid.
In Zen Golf, Parent explores a range of common life – and by extension, golf – mental mistakes we make, and how to tackle or overcome them in a practical manner using mindfulness techniques. (Breathe. Repeat.)
“Golf’s a wonderful thing for understanding your mind. Sometimes it’s frightening to discover what your mind is like,” he says.
“Almost every golfer, the moment after – and sometimes the moment before – they hit the ball, it’s very revealing what their state of mind was.
“Mindfulness means staying grounded, staying settled and centred, and staying with what you’re doing so you know what’s going on in your mind, moment to moment.
“For golf, the number one source of interference with staying present is worry about outcomes.
“How can you be present if your mind is on the future?”
He suggests adopting the same mentality amid the current global crisis, focusing on keeping yourself centred in the now, rather than stressing too much about what might unfold in the future.
“The universe itself moves in waves. It’s a pulsating thing. Human beings, the inhabitants, the animals and the environment – everything moves in waves.
“There are ups and downs and if we learn how to ride them, that’s the powerful thing.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Parent says if you’re struggling with your golf, or even with the current global fear that has engulfed us, it is not so important to take on board thoughts and feelings so rigidly as it is to tune into your body and breathe. Sensing a theme here?
“The emotions and the thoughts will pass through as long as you don’t continue to fuel them,” he says.
“When you have waves of fear and despair know that these are thoughts and emotions you’re having right now. If you take them and grasp onto them as permanent, again, you will produce what you fear.”
Produce what you fear? Haven’t I read that somewhere before, Doc? Ah, yes, it’s a chapter in Zen Golf and arguably the one that most resonated with this scribe.
It’s also a pretty poignant point he makes as people continue to freak out over unnecessary things during the coronavirus pandemic, driven solely by that fear and insecurity.
“We had this strange thing here in the [United] States that somehow people got the idea there would be a shortage of toilet paper. I don’t know why toilet paper but somehow that message got around,” he says.
“And what did a fear of a shortage of toilet paper produce? Panic-buying and hoarding and what did it ultimately produce? A shortage of toilet paper!”
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
CAN GOLFERS FIND ‘HAPPY’ RIGHT NOW?
WHEN it comes to our games, we all want to be happy, whatever that actually means.
Yet even though we know how quickly we can become upset after a sprayed tee shot, missed putt or chunked pitch, in general, golfers are actually happier people than the populace who don’t swing a club. Need proof?
According to a 2019 Telegraph report, London doctors were encouraged by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to promote patients to take up golf as a way of taking stress off the health system, after a pilot study revealed significant boosts in life satisfaction, happiness and self-esteem among those who teed it up regularly.
While they obviously never played a round with Philbert (there are always outliers), the study has since been backed up by several others that show golfers are – on the whole – happy folk.
But are we truly ‘happy’ with our games? And more importantly, how can we practically prepare ourselves for a positive return to the first tee while we’re now stuck at home in self-isolation?
“JACK NICKLAUS USED TO CALL IT ‘GOING TO THE MOVIES’… YOU CAN DO THAT FOR YOURSELF.”
According to the Doc, there’s no better opportunity to train your swing… using your mind.
A strong proponent of visualisation, Parent recommends we all sit back in a chair, close our eyes, and picture ourselves playing golf on course.
“Jack Nicklaus used to call it ‘going to the movies’,” he says.
“And he did this before every shot – he stood back and pictured himself walking up into address, going through his whole pre-shot routine, his waggle, looking at the target, his swing and watching the ball fly to the target.”
Several studies support the benefits of visualisation, including a notable one conducted by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson in the late 1960s, which show visualisation to be nearly as effective as physical practice.
“You can do that for yourself. Imagining yourself playing a few holes of golf,” Parent says. “I only do a few holes at a time because it is very relaxing, and you can fall asleep.”
“But if you do this, it actually will improve your game.”
He has first-hand experience as a mental game coach, including to stars of the game like Vijay Singh and Cristie Kerr, that visualisation really does work.
“I had a student. He had an injury. He was a teenager; couldn’t play golf for two months. I had him do [visualisation] every day, and his first round back he went out and shot 1-under par.”
There you have it. If you can’t get out on course to physically practise your golf – which is pretty much every one of us at the moment – then sitting in a chair and imagining (sorry, visualising) yourself playing your favourite course, is proven to be the next best thing. And if we’re all playing as well as he says we can, then it makes for a pretty happy band of golfers.
So does he have any final advice for us mere mortals when it comes to discovering ‘Happy Golf’? The Doc was rather succinct in his response:
“Just stop. Breathe.” Ø