Zen Golf: Mastering The Mental Game

Don’t let the title scare you, no need to assume the lotus position and repeat incantations as part of your pre-shot routine.  What is presented in this book by Joseph Parent, a PGA Coach and Buddhist instructor, is a pragmatic approach to managing the mental aspect of your game to get out of your own way and let your golf skills provide you with the best chance for success on the golf course.

A good pre-shot routine is essential to getting consistency out of your intended shots but the mental aspect of that routine is the part many players seem to ignore.  We have all experienced how being impulsive, indecisive, and anticipating a bad result can wreck all the good intentions of our plan.  The question is how do you clear your mind, achieve focus on your intent, and play each shot within the moment to delimit the effect anxiety and fear can have on your results.

How do you deal with the negative thoughts that creep into your head that can predispose you to a bad outcome? His suggestion is that all thoughts going through your head are like traffic on a busy street, you cannot control them coming into the picture so you should not try to control them by forcing them out.  He says, “Simply let them come up and go by, neither inviting them to stay nor trying to get rid of them.”  The key is to allow ”last time I was here I  hit in that nasty bunker” to come and go and to let stay “left center ten feet left of the pin with an uphill putt”.  It is a simple process of mental sifting.

A corollary principle is cultivating “unconditional confidence” in your intentions.  This means not being overly judgmental based on your performance at any point during a round.  We cannot expect to hit every shot perfectly and we must be able to handle the result no matter what occurs.  With unconditional confidence “instead of assuming something (mechanical) is wrong ….and trying to fix it, we reflect on what may have interfered with our intention on that shot.  This approach makes it possible to quickly turn things around and play well again.”

His central thesis in this book is a mental management process he calls the PAR Approach-a way of thinking that focuses on Preparation, Action, and Response to Result.

Preparation requires clarity-a vivid image of the shot intended, commitment-being free of doubt and hesitation of intent, and composure-being focused and poised as you prepare for a shot.  Together these three elements give you total confidence in the intended outcome of your shot.

Action is about developing, honing, and trusting a process of swinging the club that turns over control from your thinking mind to your intuitive mind.  Trying to guide your swing with swing thoughts and principles has to be left on the practice ground. When you are on the course you have to trust a process you have developed that works.  As he says, “take care of the process and the results will take care of themselves”.

Response to Results is probably the most overlooked aspect of managing your mind on the golf course.  Most of us have a tendency to focus on the negative part of our results and vocalize the flaws to ourselves.  His advice is “the best responses are those that reinforce successes and help you learn from mistakes without getting down on yourself”.  We need to take the time to appreciate a good shot and focus on how well we executed what we planned.  He says, “reinforcing good shots with positive feelings….a minimum of emotional distress around poor shots….and refraining from beating yourself up, those ways of responding to results give you the best chance of success.”

I am sure a thoughtful reading of this book will help your performance on the golf course.  It will also increase the pleasure you get from playing the game by giving you a more reasonable perspective on expectation and evaluation of performance.

The proper view this book encourages is that  “our self worth as a human being doesn’t depend on how well or poorly we strike a golf ball.  We see our nature and our abilities as basically good and the difficulties we encounter as temporary experiences.”

These are words to live by and words to play by.

Zen Golf
Dr. Joseph Parent (2002)