I've shot as low as 65 on a par 72 course, and still am able to shoot par or better when the putter is working. And yet, I still find myself thinking about how to hit the ball. And there are many much better players than I who suffer the same affliction. Why after all the thousands of golf balls I've hit should I still feel compelled to think about how I'm going to hit it, instead of where I want to hit it? And I am not alone. This disease affects many, and I'm not sure there's a cure.
I played the other day with Steve and, after tinkering most of the day with my swing, ended up disgusted and discouraged. I finally said to Steve that I was just going to hit the damned ball. Sure enough, I played much better.
"It's like an illness," I said to Steve. "I can't seem to stop tinkering, and thinking about my swing."
He agreed that it was a ruinous disease, and reminded me of his brother, Bobby, who had started playing with me as a kid. Bobby became a very good player and eventually found himself suffering from paralysis by analysis as well. He has apparently cured himself of the affliction and is back to "just hitting it." I hope Bobby stays cured. Because, I think the compulsive tinkerer will always be one bad shot away from tinkering again.
The problem with golf is that the ball just sits there. We have too much time to think, instead of just reacting, as we must do in virtually every other sport where we hit a ball with a stick, or a racquet, or a bat. As Sam Snead said, "That little white ball is always staring back at you, daring you to make a mistake."
Sam Snead understood the affliction. Whether he ever suffered from paralysis by analysis himself, I don't know. Certainly, if he did, he didn't suffer as long, or as often, as so many of us. Sam said, "Thinking, instead of acting, is the number one disease in golf."
Of course, Sam was absolutely correct, if by thinking, he was talking about swing thoughts. Golf is a game where we do need to think. We need to have a strategy for playing the course if we are going to play well. Golf is a bit like chess in that respect. But we need to act, or better yet, react. Once we pick our shot, and our target, we have to stop thinking and act or react to the target. If we've played the game long enough, we know how to hit the ball. So why do we not just do it, instead of thinking about how to do it? Why can't we stop thinking about how to hit it and start thinking about where we want to hit it? If I had the answer to that question, I'd probably be able to sell it, and I'd be a much better golfer.
When we're learning the game, we may need to do some thinking about how. Bobby Jones said that we had to come to understand the golf swing in general, and our own swing in particular. If we don't develop a basic understanding of the golf swing, and an intimate understanding of our own swing, we will be lost when things inevitably start to go wrong. Sometimes we must have some swing thoughts.
We have to use our head in golf. We have to think. But I like what Bobby Jones said:
"When I think about three things during my swing I'm playing poorly; when I think about two things, I have a chance to shoot par; when I think of only one thing I could win the tournament."