Zen and other mystical ways to play better golf
February 15, 2002
A long time ago, as a college student, I went to a yoga demonstration. It required audience participation in meditation exercises.
I followed the instructors’ guidance, along with the rest of the crowd—at least, up to the point where I fell completely asleep while sitting cross-legged on the floor.
I’m still not sure what parts I missed. Apparently I possessed a previously untapped ability to meditate myself directly into a complete stupor.
Other than owning a Mr. Natural tee shirt, that’s about as far as I ever progressed toward Eastern enlightenment.
Years later, however, I also learned how to use meditation and biofeedback techniques to control parts of my body. By increasing blood flow to the extremities, for example, I could reduce the pressure in my brain that produced migraines.
In many respects, biofeedback creates a mental state that attends to bodily functions that are normally on autopilot. With not too much effort, some of these automatic parts of life can be subjected to a surprising amount of deliberate alteration.
I thought of these past techniques and experiences while reading Printer Bowler’s The Cosmic Laws of Golf (and everything else) (Berkley, $12.95 SRP).
Bowler is a Montana native, a Vietnam-era veteran, and convinced of the power of meditation. This slim paperback is devoted to showing how to use intense contemplation to improve your golf and (perhaps) everything else in your life.
Some golfers are perfectly at home with Zen and other Eastern philosophies. Bowler certainly is. Cosmic Laws is full of references to Hindu legends, Zen techniques, and Buddhist parables. Bowler believes that these ways of thinking provide useful insights into how one should approach the playing of golf.
For example, without trust no golfer can maintain the relaxed state that is essential for driving well off the tee. Otherwise, the desire to steer the ball will produce so much tension that a good result is nearly impossible.
Without commitment to a given shot or putt, no golfer should expect success.
A golfer needs to believe in her swing, and clear her mind of the traps of fear. “As you believe, so you are,” Bowler notes.
Golfers should also develop a sense of acceptance. Worry over possible results before even attempting the shot will inevitably harm your performance.
To help golfers along this path to tee-time enlightenment, Bowler suggests several activities. Some, such as the one that has golfers mentally pouring their unwanted thoughts into a black golf ball, will strike readers as a bit silly. Bowler freely admits that. He’s also betting that if golfers simply try these mental and physical exercises, success will overcome any possible embarrassment.
Here’s the real secret, at least as I see it. Bowler’s references to Eastern religions are intriguing, and may help some golfers better understand and accept his advice. They’re not really necessary, however.
Bowler’s book simply shows golfers how to develop an intense feel for the game.
Knowing the mechanics of the golf swing is important. Nonetheless, the ability to focus, relax, and swing away without worrying about results is far more critical. Bowler’s contribution is in giving golfers some new ways to improve these feel-based capabilities.
Several of these exercises in fact train golfers in fundamental visualization techniques, for which no basic grounding in Zen Buddhism is necessary.
Bowler’s other helpful suggestions, for example in the segment called “The Magic Triangle,” reminded me of similar instruction from Bob Cullen and Bob Rotella in Putting Out of Your Mind. In both cases the golfer can learn how to develop better eye-hand-target coordination. These ideas have the added benefit of working, too.
If you’re most comfortable with a mechanical approach to the game, you probably won’t gain much from this book. On the other hand, if you accept the role that a heightened sense of feel can bring to golf, The Cosmic Laws deserves your attention.