”Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep.” ~ Samuel Johnson, The Rambler – 1750
The first awakening in my golf career came as a result of my first videotaped lesson. I remember going into the lesson all excited, as I was looking forward to observing a beautiful, athletic swing in motion (or so I thought). I arrived early to loosen up and hit a few balls, wanting to be in perfect form for the camera time that awaited. I won’t bore you with the specifics. I’ll just say this: if you attached my attitude going into the lesson to a monetary value, I would’ve been the richest man in the world. An hour later, after witnessing the reality of what my swing looked like – I would’ve been penniless.
I reference my first real “awakening” because I think it gets to the root of my playing perspective that I’m sharing with you today: We are only as good in golf as our minds allow us to be.
As I sat in the chair in the teaching pro’s office 30 minutes later, as he was commenting on what we were observing in my golf swing, the first thought that came to my mind was, “That’s not me, my swing is much more smooth and pretty.” While I was utterly dazed and confused with the reality that I saw that afternoon, I paid little attention to the teaching pro’s comment as he stopped the video right as I was impacting the ball. “Look at your impact position – it’s perfect. That’s what we call the moment of truth – right there. You’ve nailed it.”
But that wasn’t good enough for me. Now I wasn’t expecting to see the graceful, rhythmic motion as that of Ernie Els or Freddie Couples, but neither was I expecting to see the less-than-pretty golf swing that I apparently owned, whether I wanted to believe it or not. The video doesn’t lie – that was my golf swing. And despite the teaching pro giving me tons of compliments on doing “all of the most important things right” – I was more concerned about the aesthetics. That flawed mindset of valuing pretty over functionality became my obsession over the next several months, and by the time the season was coming to a close – I was ready to quit the game for good. In my quest to become the weekend warrior equivalent of the Big Easy, my swing turned into the Big Nasty. I’d become a total basket case with a golf club in my hands, with no fewer than 30 swing thoughts standing over the ball at address. Fortunately it was a tough winter and I wouldn’t have the temptations to torture myself for another 4 months. I put the clubs away in November and I didn’t touch them again until April.
But 4 months later I was right back where I left off 4 months earlier, having no clue how to hit a golf ball. I decided to go back to see the teaching pro again, except there would be no video this time.
After watching me hit balls for 5 minutes, and then listening to me explain how I’d spent the remainder of the season prior working on a smoother, more graceful swing, he held up his hand and cut me off mid-sentence. “There was absolutely nothing wrong with the way you swung the golf club. In fact – your impact position was as good, if not better, than many of the Touring Pro models that I compared it to back at that lesson. Let’s get back to being that guy again. Let’s stop worrying about being Ernie Els and get back to being you,” he said. “I gave you a copy of that videotaped lesson. You still have it, right?” I told him that I did. “Good,” he said. “I want you to watch that video before each practice session for the next month, and get back to doing what you were doing. Don’t worry about how you think it looks. There are thousands of amateurs who would love to hit the ball the way you do. Get back to hitting the ball the way you know how to. If you’re still struggling after that – come back and see me.”
About two weeks later, after 4 practice sessions and 3 rounds of golf, I started resembling the old, reliable me again. I’ve always been a “hitter” of the ball, meaning that I use a lot of leverage, athleticism and timing in my uptempo golf swing. I’d played this way my entire life, and played rather well. Why I decided to change that… I guess it’s not that much different than a guy who needs every ounce of forgiveness in an oversized game improvement iron but would rather struggle hitting those handsome blades that are half the size.
Don’t worry about pretty. Don’t worry about swinging like Adam Scott or Freddie Couples. Take pride in your golf swing and your golf game in general. Don’t be afraid to take lessons and always seek improvement. But avoid trying to be the golfer that you’re not, trying to impress your playing partners who quite frankly are so consumed with their own challenges that they don’t have time to notice yours.
Be the best player you can be, not what you think others think you should be. You’ll come a lot closer to realizing your true potential if you can avoid trying to live up to someone else’s.