Monday, 19 October 2015

I'm Trying Not to Try

Way back in 1981, I joined the Correctional Service of Canada.  In those days, the training to be a Correctional Officer focussed as much, or more, on learning how to march and shoot straight, as it did learning how to communicate with convicts.  We drilled, and played with guns, and wrestled, and learned to use  the thirty six inch baton--my personal favourite--until we were hopefully ready to face just about anything.  Of course, the reality is that I spent much more of my thirty year career talking to convicts than I ever did wrestling with them. 

I know this is a golf blog, so I realize I have ventured off topic to a degree.  The reason I mentioned my career in Corrections is that during that training phase we spent lots of time exercising and getting fit.  We played ball hockey in the gymnasium, and it was during one of those sessions that I discovered something interesting.  

When we were warming up, I used the hockey stick like a golf club and hit shot after shot at the goalie.  I was able to consistently hit a low cut right at the target.  Watching me was a fellow trainee whose father was a golf pro, and who had himself secured his CPGA card but left the golf business in favour of the better pay offered to federal Corrections officers.  He was clearly taken aback by the way I was able to use a hockey stick to hit shot after shot right on target.  I never really thought much about it at the time, but I have since often recalled the incident.

I have recently been writing about Sam Snead's teaching.  In my last blog I talked about Sam's description of his state of mind and body when he was playing his best.  He said that his mind was blank and he was "loose as a goose."  That was how I felt on that day in the gym playing golf with a hockey stick and a plastic ball the size of a tennis ball.  I just swung the stick and sent that ball whistling at the goalie.  It was easy.

I have had other similar experiences with a golf club in my hand.  In bygone days, I have had people stop to watch me hit the ball on the range; many of them thinking I was a pro.  In every case, I had to say, "You haven't seen me putt!"  When on a range I was often able to hit every shot in the book--low, high, left to right, right to left, dead straight--it was easy.  I say "was," because my days of hitting balls on the range are pretty much over given the state of my back.  I figure I've only got so many swings left in me, so I don't want to waste any.  Besides, my swing bears little resemblance to the swing of my youth.  I'm not sure I could break an egg with my current swing.

Today, I missed my tee time with Carl and Billy.  I did, however, manage to catch up with them on the tenth tee.  It was 46 degrees and windy.  We were all bundled up and not exactly loose as a goose, given the weather.  Nevertheless, I tried to think of nothing over the ball and swing easy, like the Slammer.  A pushed tee shot into the trees on the eleventh, and a clumsy double on fifteen had me five over after nine.

Meanwhile, Carl the Grinder kept getting it up and down from everywhere and had happily announced that a par on 18 would be for 75.  "Not bad in this weather," he said, smiling like the cat who ate the canary.  He smiles a lot when he's beating my sorry butt.  

Sure enough, hitting it over the back of the green on 18 into some gnarly rough, Carl gouged it out and made the putt for his 75.  I decided to keep going and play the front nine alone.  I had found something on the last few holes and wanted to try to ingrain the feeling.  

What I had found was that "hockey stick" swing from the gym.  That relaxed, carefree, "take it back and let it go" swing of days gone by.  I played the next nine in one under par, giving me a 76.  It didn't better Carl's 75, but it wasn't so bad for an old, fat guy, playing in that weather.  If I can only keep that feeling.  Sam Snead said that he played his best golf when he felt like he was hardly trying.  That seems to be the key for me as well.  I have to learn not to try too much. I have to learn not to care as much.  That's when I play my best.

Carl is a grinder.  He plays every shot like it's life or death.  He grinds as hard for an 80 as he does for a 70.  He shot 70 again last week actually, which isn't too shabby for a guy who's 72 years old and swings like he's falling off a ladder.  Me, I'm much better being loose as a goose.  When I try too hard, I get tight.  To each their own.  The problem is, it's hard to feel like you don't care when you really do.  That's what makes this game so tough.

I'm going to try from now on not to try so hard.  That's what golf does to you.  It makes you try not to try.  No wonder I drink!