Sunday, July 27, 2014

Learn by Osmosis--The Women's Futures

You may joke that you can’t become an athlete by watching TV, and that may be true, but I think that it is true that watching superior athletes in person can improve your ability.

Every year I walk the course at Capital Hills (the Albany Municipal Course) in Albany, New York to monitor, observe and be stunned by the young women on the Women’s Futures Tournament. The Albany tournament is the final round and after three days ten of these young women will “get their card”—meaning they can join the LPGA Tour.

These are beautiful athletes. Skilled, driven, disciplined, polished and poised. They are not however, for the most part, rich. They sleep on couches and in guest rooms and drive themselves to the next city. Their coach/caddy is a usually a Dad, brother, friend or another golfer. These are some of the hardest working women you will ever see, and they are young—maybe 16 to 25 years old.

Each year I add something to my game by watching them. As I learn more about golf I can recognize what I am trying for on another player and it is especially helpful to see what I am aiming for on another woman’s body. Today I made the translation from a Pilate’s technique to a golfer’s shoulder/arm position. Shoulders are down and back but “where you get blood drawn” faces outward—this brings the most power to your swing from the back rather than the arms. That’s skill and economy. Now I get it!

The other thing I love about watching the Futures women each year is their drive—their big golf swings yes –but also their personal drive. These are young women who go to school and work at jobs and train hard and play golf six days a week. No whining. No slacking. They have what Caroline Adams Miller refers to as “grit” in her book, “Creating Your Best Life”.

So no wonder you can feel the crowd pulling for them. The Women’s Futures fans have so much respect for how hard these young women live, not just play.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ben Hogan's Advice for Managers

My golf coach, Marvin Freedman—creator of “The Marvin Method” told me this story at lunch today:
Many years ago the great golfer Ben Hogan was playing a practice round before an important tournament. He was paired with a younger pro. During the game the young pro hit a shot he didn’t like and in his frustration he threw his club. Hogan noticed but they played on and finished 18 holes.

After they walked off the 18th Hogan said to the young pro, “Son, can I ask you a question?” and the pro of course said, “Yes Mr. Hogan.” And Ben asked him, “Did your game improve after you threw that club?” The young man thought and then said, “No, not at all.”

 And Hogan said, “Well, just think about that.”

I thought about that story as I drove back to my office today after my lunch with Marvin. My day had begun with one employee crying, another staff member angry, two others unhappy with each other and sharing it publicly. I had plenty of work to do and I had to choose my response in each situation. Would it help to be bossy? angry? preachy? Would it help to “throw my club?”

No, your game—no matter what your game is—never gets better if you throw your club.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Golf is a Spiritual Practice

I am a recent convert to golf. The speed of my conversion still surprises me. I imagine it was like that of the Biblical Saul who persecuted Christians until he was knocked from his horse and in an instant became Paul and the new chief marketing officer for Christianity.

For years I laughed at golfers. But I saw smart people and women I respected playing golf so I reluctantly began. I approached golf the way I approached returning to church after many years away. I wanted it but resisted it. Then I discovered that golf is spiritual. It engages the body, mind and spirit. But to learn that I had to uncross my arms, my mind and my heart.

I recognized the beauty first. I know the outdoors as sacred space. But the true work of golf happens on the inside. Every golfer knows that golf teaches humility. It requires you to have what Buddhists call “a beginner’s mind.” Golf goes on to test and teach in many more ways.

One of the gifts I find in golf is that my mind gets quiet. The part of me that constantly worries my to-do list becomes still on the golf course. I stay in the present like all spiritual teaches say we should. When I play golf I don’t regret the past or worry about the future. The spiritual sign found in every casino, “You Must Be Present to Win” is true --and possible --on the golf course.

Golf reveals temperament and character, and it provides an examination of conscience. In golf we experience all of the defects that we wish to be freed from. We are given minute-by-minute opportunities to experience our greed, pride and grasping. The driving range, putting green and the rough are places to practice mindfulness and non-attachment.
Consider the stages of faith formation that all religions share. First there is the newcomer’s enthusiasm, then reading and study, the endless time spent as we go deeper and then, as saints will attest, there is the dryness or the dark nights of the soul. The good feelings go away; you feel abandoned. That’s true in golf. You might get the yips, or the ball goes nowhere you intended. You can change your swing, and then your grip, and finally your driver, but ultimately you have to change your mind.  

Stories are another anchor that golf shares with spiritual practice. Golf is narrative. It is a story with eighteen small chapters, which alternate joy, hubris, regret, heartbreak, surrender and occasional success.

Just when you think you have it nailed golf changes up on you. It is a crucible; in golf you face pride and ego and you learn to move through humiliation and heartbreak with dignity. Then you learn the deepest spiritual truth of every faith: you must surrender to win.

T.S. Eliot wrote, “To arrive where you are, to get there from where you are not, you must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.” Golfers understand. Golfers go by a way of driving ranges, skidding balls, and a great swing that misses the ball. And yet that is the way to get from where you are not, from where there is no ecstasy, to finding pleasure in golf.

Golf allows us to enact comedy, tragedy and the occasional miracle and leave happy though empty-handed. As golf coach Gio Valente says, “We are entitled to nothing in golf. Playing the game with appreciation and in good health—those are the gifts.”

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