Zen, Golf, and the Art of Being in the Zone.


A significant number of books have been written about the mental or spiritual side of golf (are they two completely different things?), and I have read a high percentage of them — like “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” by Dr. Bob Rotella, “Golf in the Kingdom” by Michael Murphy, “Bagger Vance” by Steven Pressfield, “The Cosmic Laws of Golf” by Printer Bowler, “Straight Down the Middle” by Josh Karp, to name a few of my favorites. There are many, many more.

All of these books have something wonderfully good and positive to offer you, the golfer, if you take their lessons to heart. My favorite of all of them is “Zen Golf, Mastering the Mental Game”, by Dr. Joseph Parent. Having read this book three times now, just reading through some of the chapter titles produces word pictures of different facets of the ideal state of mind for hitting a golf shot:

  •  you produce what you fear
  •  give up control to get control
  •  don’t hit it in the lake
  •  avoid the anyways
  •  dive under the waves
  •  how to make a flower blossom
  •  untie the sand bags
  •  fire your evil caddie

Dr. Parent’s description of zen is “action through awareness …being completely in the present moment“.  Or in other words, “expansive vision, effortless focus, a feeling of equanimity and timelessness, abundant confidence, and complete freedom from anxiety or doubt“.  Harvey Penick, in “The Little Red Book”, describes it thusly: “when you are playing your best, you are in much the same as in a state of meditation … free of tension and chatter … concentrating on one thing”.

And to me the one thing you concentrate on is … the target. In the ideal state of mind you merge with the target, become one with the target. After your pre-shot routine, which of course is designed to simply clear your mind of thoughts and get closer to that meditative state, you take a last look at the target, whether it is the flagstick or a particular part of the fairway or the bottom of the cup, you become one with it, and you let it fly.

And don’t you find it interesting that the pre-shot routine is such an integral part of preparation for shooting a free throw, pitching or hitting a baseball, serving in tennis, starting the lead-up to a high jump or pole vault or downhill ski race? There are probably numerous other examples as well.

It probably goes without saying that I believe this state of mind is an advisable way to live your life. Dr. Parent describes the four principles of shambala golf as:

1. virtue (basic goodness in action)

2. discipline (proper conduct)

3. humor (absence of self importance)

4. friendship (having an open heart)

Trophy Lake #17


3 thoughts on “Zen, Golf, and the Art of Being in the Zone.

  1. Hi Mike: Hope you and yours are doing well. Enjoyed your essay, especially the section on visualization. I can’t imagine not using visualization in most undertakings.

    As Kim Richards, Bill Lutgen and myself began our ‘working careers’ as caddies at Glendale, back in our Highland Jr. High days, that chapter title, ‘fire your evil caddie’ was a grabber.. I’ll just be satisfied that he said ‘fire’ instead of ‘shoot.’

    And finally, while at a SU vs. Cal-Davis baseball game 2 or 3 weeks ago, I met a Cal dad who’s a golf pro in Walnut Creek. Coincidentally, I had read a piece that very morning on the failings of golf around the country (I believe it was in the Washington Post). When I mentioned that to him he said yes, we as an industry have failed badly. Too much focus on high-end courses instead of public facilities. Too expensive – the green fees and the equipment. More courses closing than are opening. I’m sure you’re more aware of the challenges than I am. As I’m not a golfer, I have no emotional stake in the dilemma, but I do admit, I was surprised to see the article. Similar to the ski indu$try, they’re cutting their own wrists. Though the gentleman I met is optimistic that it can be turned around.

    Now I’m going to Starbucks to formulate a solution to all racial problems. Well, maybe not!


  2. You’re doing great work here Mike! I love the fact that you’re figuring out how to take you passion and your work and transcending even that to something that’s useful, helpful and salient to anyone.


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