Friday, March 17, 2006

Paying Attention

I've made the point (several times!) that a big part of Zen, life — even golf — is paying attention. I received a personal reminder of that —twice! — in this past week.

I've been having trouble with my chipping and short pitch game since early last year. Because I had minor hand/finger surgery last week, the only thing I could do (when the weather permitted) was hit little shots of 20 yards and in, and so I took my shag bag to an open field with the intent of finding/fixing my problem. But I couldn't shake it. My prime issue was consistent trajectory, with most of my chips coming off the club low and hard; I couldn't seem to get any consistent loft.

After too long a period, I finally realized the basic flaw; even though I was playing the ball well back, my swing was bottoming out behind the ball, causing me to catch it, blade it, on the upswing. Worse, once I realized that, I had a devil of a time correcting it; I continued on, "chunking" almost all of my chips. The more I concentrated on hitting down on the ball, the more I must have been lowering my center of gravity and therefore my swing arc. As often in golf, the more I "tried hard" the more I failed.

Finally, I concentrated on the sound of contact and trying to reproduce the sound of the occasional good contact. That proved to be the solution and things improved quickly fromt there.

Then, at the end of the week I was cleared to play and about the only thing that did go well was my improved short game. Everything else was a struggle.

So, I and my shag bag returned to the practice area the next day. I was more than half-way through the bag, hitting shots that felt awful and went mostly off-line and short, when I finally realized that the grass/dirt build-up on my wedge was outside the sweet-spot, well toward the toe. Again, once I realized that, it took a maddeningly long time for me to stop making toe contact. I had to strive for a shank in order to get the contact back toward the face center but, once I did, the contact stopped feeling harsh and my normal lenghth came back.

My main point: against the very things I've been saying and writing here, I had failed to pay attention to what was happening and, as a result, my practice was utterly pointless until I recognized what was going on.

It's a point Jack Nicklaus makes over and over; when things go wrong, you'll always find the cause somewhere in the fundamentals.

Pay Attention!


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