A golf lesson in experiencing your own brilliance

One of the many reasons that I became fascinated with golf coach Fred Shoemaker (pictured above) was that he would ask me to do things I’ve never heard before.

Shoemaker has asked golfers to throw clubs as an exercise, hit balls rolled on the ground, and stroke putts while adding numbers. He’s also said, “I don’t know if the object of golf is to get better at it.”

Shoemaker’s approach is too strange for some, and many golfers don’t believe his way provides a direct line to improving.

What attracts me to Fred is that he sees golf in a far wider context than anyone that I’ve ever met before. He’s like a golf mystic.

What Fred did for me, aside from providing me with an amazing model of what a coach can be, was this: He exposed me to a viewpoint of myself that I had never considered. It changed my game and greatly influenced my life.

I’ll summarize that viewpoint as: “I’m whole and complete. I’m OK as I am. I’m not broken, and I don’t need fixing. In fact, by exploring my own experiences, I have learned more about what I’m truly capable of and what’s possible.”

I don’t care if you’re a golfer, a manager at McDonald’s, or a CEO, that viewpoint is 180 degrees from the standard messages that golfers have about themselves, and that we receive from the world.

As a coach, I’m constantly meeting people who see themselves as deficient, inept, and almost irredeemably busted—as golfers and often as people. You may think that’s extreme, but most people don’t believe in their own efficacy. My evidence? Having coached and facilitated hundreds of people for 20 years in men’s work and in golf.

I’ll focus on golfers here. When golfers struggle, they rarely move forward without an enormous struggle. Why? They are starting with a foundational belief that they are the problem. Good luck in golf or in any part of life if your core belief is that you suck.

This brings me back to what Fred asked me and some other golf coaches to do during a workshop. I’ve borrowed it the last few years during a series of workshops under the banner of Quiet Mind Golf. I’ll be doing more this summer with Nate Robinson, PGA of Canada professional, (See below for information.)

Near the end of a Quiet Mind Golf putting clinic, I ask the participants to do one last exercise: I invite them to “enjoy your stroke.”

I ask them to roll some putts for about five minutes. Not to a hole. Just roll them. Then I add: “The invitation is to just let your stroke happen. Don’t try to do anything correctly or follow a tip. Don’t try to do anything except enjoy your stroke.”

After hearing this, some people laugh. Someone will usually say: “I’ve never been asked that before.”

“What if I’m doing something wrong?” is a common question.

“Just enjoy your stroke,” I’ll repeat.

After about five-seven minutes, I’ll ask people to relate their experience. Most people say it was a revelation—a new and novel experience that surprised and intrigued them.

Here’s some of the observations:

  • They were shocked at how solidly and accurately they hit most of their putts
  • It was the first time they hit a putt without some instruction in their head
  • Their stroke felt flowing and unhurried
  • They never felt so relaxed while putting
  • They felt things happening in their stroke they never felt before
  • It was the first time they didn’t instantly judge a stroke as good or bad
  • Their mind was peaceful and calm

There’s usually someone who says that golf is not like this—you’re always trying to get a putt close or sink it. One fellow said he doesn’t see how this relates to golf “when it counts.”

My response is that this experience is a baseline of what putting can be.

To me, that is huge. The exercise allows people to experience freedom from their directive minds, judgment, and self-interference. It’s a foundation you can build on.

Shoemaker’s brilliance in designing this exercise is to allow participants to escape the usual way that they approach the game, and have an experience that disproves their story about themselves—that they are unathletic, “a bad putter,” and so on.

For me, the main takeaway is: This is what’s possible for you and what you are capable of.

It’s compelling evidence that no one is broken and needs fixing. How’s that for a foundation for going forward in any part of life?

To me, it’s like a child knowing he or she is unconditionally loved. With that foundation, it’s like having a safety net that holds you up no matter what happens. It tells you that at your core: ‘I’m  OK. I’m all right. I can work with this.’

In a world that tells us how broken we are, that’s extraordinary.

Thanks Fred.

If the ‘enjoy-your-stroke’ exercise resonated with you, I invite you to buy Extraordinary Putting: Transforming the Whole Game by Fred Shoemaker.

For information on upcoming Quiet Mind clinics, please send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca. The clinics borrow heavily from the book and my experiences with Fred.

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Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

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