Continued from part 3

And the reason I wasn’t focused was because I was so concerned about my swing. At this point I was taking a lot of golf lessons, weekly lessons on trying to perfect my technique. Maybe it was my fault, maybe the pros but most likely a combination of both. But I was lost and some sort of consistent game seemed like a long way off.

Choosing a target is only part of the equation. You need to be able to get the ball there. Hitting the ball is the hard part.

It would be nice if we could walk up to the ball, hit it and have it find the target. Nice, but it’s not realistic for most of us. In saying that, I believe all of us have the talent to hit the ball to target, but we need a slight mind-shift for it to happen. Here’s what I mean.

We all try and hit the ball dead straight. We obsess with alignment and make sure we’re square. We love to see the ball fly dead straight. But is this obtainable? I think not.

To hit the ball dead straight is almost a fluke. The clubface needs to be perfectly square and your swing path right on line. If either is slightly off the ball will curve left or right. But if you didn’t care about the ball flight, only with getting the ball to the target, what would you do?

This is also profound because many of us have a natural shot shape. If you forget about all the crap and swing naturally, your ball flight will be predictable. It won’t fly straight, but it will curve. But we fight this predictability. We want to hit the ball straight. It’s rubbish. Most of the golf professionals we watch curve the ball. Almost all of the legends of the game maneuver the ball.

Jack Nicklaus hit the fade
Greg Norman hit a fade
Gary Player played with a hook shot
Tiger Woods loves working the ball
Bubba Watson hits all sorts of shots but rarely a straight one

I remember a story from Harvey Penick. He used to give golf demonstrations during baseball games and would get the crowd to yell out shots they wanted him to hit.

“Hit a big slice” – Penick would hit a slice
“Hit it high” – he’d hit the ball high
“Hit it far” – he’d whack the ball over the back fence.
“Hit it straight!” – That would always get him.

The straight shot is a myth. It’s not easy. It’s almost impossible.

I’d also found something funny with my game. When I was in trouble off the tee and needed to hit a curved recovery shot, I was almost always able to do so. That never really hit home to me until I really started to think about the game and the magic of having a clear intention (goal) for each shot.

For me the hook shot was easy. I could aim to the left and curve the ball back to the right. I rarely missed the shot. If someone put a gun to my head, I could definitely hit a hook shot time after time.

Things started making sense.

1. I wasn’t choosing a predetermined target

2. I wasn’t choosing my shot. A shot I knew I could hit each time

I picked out my 8 iron (the 7 and 8 irons a great clubs to work with. They are long enough to get good distance but are short enough in length to make learning a little easier) and set up two targets about 5 metres apart.

My goal/objective was to start the ball at the left target and then curve it back to the right one. Pretty simple, eh? It was simple but vastly different to what I was doing previously. My mind wasn’t occupied with swing rules, technique or any other rubbish. My goal was basic, start the ball at target #1 and draw/hook it back to target #2. My “natural” swing and subconscious would be free to work out all the minor details – like hitting the ball.

This way of playing is very normal for me now. It is second nature. It’s automatic. But back in the day I was full of all sort of excitement. And I was excited because I was getting results. The ball was able to find the target most of the time. I’m not exaggerating here. I was experiencing success more often than failure. For a struggling golfer this is big news.

I changed clubs. This time a 5 iron. The target moved further away and I separated them a little (the longer the club the more sidespin you put on the ball – the more they curve) and once again I was getting success. Wow! This really does work.

I went through all of my clubs and kept getting a successful result. I could start the ball to the left target and it would come back to the right. At some point during this practice session I was joined by my mate. He was like me, battling around the amateur circuit, trying to find a game and hoping he could “work it out”. He was inconsistent but had plenty of promise.

I didn’t say anything to him, just kept hitting my draw shot. He went through the standard routine – which was like my old routine – hit and hope. After a while he stopped and said, “Strachan, you’re flushing the ball today, whatchya working on?”

“Not much”, I said. “A bit of this and a bit of that. But yeah, they’re coming off really well.” I struggled to contain my excitement. I knew I was onto something and it was different from other times when I thought I had “found it”. But I never told my mate what I was on to. Not sure why, but I didn’t want him to laugh at me and think I was weird, I just kept doing my thing. Interestingly he never spotted the fact I was playing with a draw/hook shot. It could have been the fact he was more concerned with his own game but I suspect that to the unsuspecting eye the shots look like they were going straight.

Normally, when hitting balls, something would almost always click and I’d start hitting the ball like a champion. But it would never last. The second I changed clubs or target, whatever I had found would be lost. I’d then spend the next hour/week/month/year searching for it. From here golf became some sort of unhealthy obsession of always tinkering and always on the lookout for the little bit of magic. But it never lasted and it was so bloody frustrating never being able to replicate good results.

I finished up with a hard, low two-iron. For about the 134th time that afternoon, the ball started to the left and curved back towards target. The shot was flush and it felt good. Really good.

By now I wanted to go play. I had an urge like I hadn’t had in years to go out and play the game. It was like being 14 again, how I would run home from school, grab my clubs and then run to the golf course. I was excited and couldn’t wait to go play. Golf was good again and I felt there was some light at the end of the tunnel.

To be continued…

References: you can read the series of Desperate Golfer posts here