To those who do not play the small, white ball game the madness of golf is pretty obvious. Why grown men and women would waste large amounts of time hitting a tiny ball around a vast field is beyond comprehension for many. The King of Scotland, James II, banned men from playing golf in 1457 because it was taking them away from their military duties. That presidents and premiers would play this game to the exclusion of most others must seem equally puzzling. Golf is an anomalous past time to the uninitiated. However, this is not the madness I wish to focus on in this article. It is another aspect of the game of golf, which borders on insanity, that I want to visit in this explorative essay.
The Frequent Golfer’s Curse of Madness
This is for the dyed in the wool golfer, the old, calloused hand, who plays often and has for a long time. The madness of golf I am talking about is that which hovers just inside the backswing. Golf, you see, involves moving a stationary object from whoa to go. The golfer must make the first move to get ball in air and travelling in the desired direction. The golf swing generates power to unleash upon an unsuspecting ball. The golfer is the gun to fire the bullet-like-ball. Everything in the set up must be right if the swing is to strike the golf ball solidly. Where the golf ball goes is determined by the golfer’s set up and alignment to the target. Thus, taking the club back must be measured and carries great import to the consequent downswing through the ball. The more one plays the game of golf the greater introspection naturally occurs. By this I mean the better player scrutinises all parts of her or his golf swing.
Golf’s Mental Black Hole
Practice makes perfect. We have all heard this common refrain when applied to sporting prowess. Thus, better golfers spend time practicing their craft on the range and elsewhere. It is like applying a spotlight to your biomechanics with the aid of coaching, mirrors, and monitoring devices. The more data you have the more awareness you can bring to the situation. However, human self-awareness can come tinged with obsessive qualities and a touch of madness. The golfer can suffer out on the course during competitive play with all this biomechanical swing analysis banging around inside his or her head.
Playing golf shots carries a fair amount of responsibility because the golfer is generating the force. Unlike many other sports where players are reacting to things generated outside of their own direct control. This responsibility grows the closer you get to the hole. This is why putting, which is seemingly the easiest stroke in the golfer’s arsenal, is the part of the game most associated with the yips. The yips are the physical manifestation of the madness I am referring to in this article. The golfer struggles to take the putter back because of the build up of emotional scar tissue and unconscious jerky movements can result in wildly missed puts from close range. The closer you get to the hole in golf the more important the result becomes. You can miss a fairway off the tee and recover with an iron to hit the green. You can miss a green with an iron and scramble to chip it close to make par. Stuffing up with the putter, however, usually costs you on the scoreboard. The pressure in the game of golf builds as you near the hole. The crazy out of control feeling dances on the periphery of your awareness.
The more golf you play and the more times you stand over the ball in preparation for executing a shot this madness can edge into your consciousness. Sometimes you feel like you cannot take the club back. Is it fear of making a poor swing? Is it the litany of swing thoughts marching like a conga of dancing girls through your mind? Is it the crazy sense of slow-motion time hovering around your awareness? The golf swing is all about timing. The tempo and rhythm of your swing. Finding the correct sequence of movements produces the perfect swing. The madness of golf is akin to being inside the padded cell of your mind jumping at shadows. Some might say, perhaps, this is a sign of playing too much golf? Although, my club captain recently told me that you can never play too much golf.
The wash up from this crazy introspection is that something supposedly simple, like swinging a golf club at a stationary object sitting on the grass, can become mysteriously challenging. The fuzzy edges around your peripheral awareness come into play. Expectation mounts with every waggle, as you wait to pull the trigger on the shot. Commentators once counted Sergio Garcia’s waggles prior to hitting a golf shot and they reached 20 something. Golf can mess with your mind big time. The more you play this game and the higher the stakes in terms of risk and reward the worse it can become. The madness of golf looms just off stage like a ghost infecting everything around it. Time seems to slow down, and you can never be sure if you are swinging too fast or too slow. You want to get inside your own golf swing and not be the watcher. You want to be the golf swing and let go of mechanical thoughts.
A series of movements sequenced to occur at the right time are the essential characteristics of the golf swing. Tempo is implicit to the success of your golf swing striking the golf ball solidly to impart the necessary force. Power is generated by the explicit unleashing of the energy inherent within these sequenced actions. The seemingly effortless long drive of the golf professional is the result of this execution of technique. So many weekend golfers lack an understanding of technique and waste vast amounts of misdirected energy. The entropy of the poor golf swing sees huff and puff for little result. Many of us seem content to remain in this void of understanding hacking away at a recalcitrant golf ball. The madness of golf can take many forms.