The last cut on Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua! album is London Homesick Blues, by Gary P. Nunn. As the Lost Gonzo Band plays the intro you can hear Gary mutter into the microphone as he gets ready to sing, saying “Gotta get myself back in that place.” You can almost see him slipping back into a cold, rainy London day and the mood he needs to feel the song.
Golf is a game full of distractions. We constantly distract ourselves with stray thoughts evaluating our play, the pace of play, the weather, what we had for breakfast, etc. As if that wasn’t enough, we also are at risk for being distracted by our playing partners, cars on the road running beside the fairway, the bozos on the next green yelling “Take that, sucker!”, the bug crawling across the green in our peripheral vision, yada, yada, yada. Before hitting that little white ball we need to emulate Gary P. and get ourselves back in that place where we feel and see only the shot at hand.
That’s what everybody says the pre-shot routine does, but my problem is getting to the place where my mind is quiet so I can slide easily into the pre-shot routine. I have no idea if this is common, but I’m at risk for getting caught up in what’s flying around inside my head and outside my body until I’m just mindlessly stepping up and whacking the ball. My decisions get stupid, my swing gets choppy, and my score goes in the toilet. If I’m rushed getting to the course and onto the first tee, my round can be DOA.
There’s a little book I found at my local bookstore that entertains and provides a lot of ideas for how to manage the mental side of the game. Be The Ball is full of short quotes, stories, and advice from everyone from actors to golf pros. None of them fit everyone, but some will fit most anyone. Lee Trevino contributes a lot to the book, so it is often as humorous as it is instructive. I can’t say that what I’m doing now is based entirely on something I saw in the book, but the book made me think about it.
My current strategy to regain focus seems to be working, as long as I can remember to do it. In my former life as a psychologist I treated a lot of headache patients. One of the things I did was relaxation training, and it occurred to me that I might be able to use that skill in my golf game. A quick little relaxation exercise clears my head, relaxes my grip, and has a chance of slowing down that choppy swing, assuming that I catch things early enough. I can get back on the golf course, away from the distractions, and into my game. I’m back in that place.