How to out-run the four horsemen of the golf search apocalypse

“I think I lost it
Let me know if you come across it”

From the song I Lost It by Lucida Williams

Searching for something you’ve lost is such a drag.

We’ve all had times where we’re tearing around the house looking for our damn keys, phone, air pods, sunglasses, wallet or what have you.

When I’m searching, I graduate from annoyance to anger to panic to resignation verging on despair. Thankfully, I almost always find whatever I’m searching for in some weird place. It’s interesting that the relief I feel is never as extreme as what I felt during the search. Talk about a crappy emotional investment. It’s just like, ‘Ok, fine.’

It’s the same thing when golfers lose their golf game.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a few golfers lament that their game was rocking, and then bam, it went south. The common complaint is that they had a certain feeling or move that ‘worked’ and then it vanished.

Of course, this leads to a desperate search to find ‘it’. The search is accompanied by the four horsemen of annoyance, anger, panic, and resignation, which is just a big word for sadness.

I don’t think that most golfers, especially men think, ‘Gee, I’m sad about this,’ when they are frustrated with their golf, but I see it in their eyes and hear it in their words. If you find it hard to fathom that a golfer might feel sad about his or her game, here’s a definition for sadness that I think makes it real. “I had something. Now it’s gone.”

That sense of loss is understandable whenever we lose something or someone, and in golf.

Except I don’t think we ever truly lose our swing or parts thereover. No one forgets how to golf. Yes, you can get in some bad habits, most of which stem from letting your fundamentals slip such as ball position, posture, alignment, weight distribution at address, and clubface direction. If you are struggling, the first place to investigate is your fundamentals. Use video or a mirror to check, or have a professional look at you. Most of your struggles start with poor fundamentals.

When they feel like they are in a slump, it’s natural for golfers to look for some kind of problem with their swing, such as “failing to finish their backswing,” “turn their hips properly,” or “keep their head still.” They look for a very specific cause or fix like they were desperately searching for their misplaced car keys.

The problem is that we’re looking in the wrong place; we’re in our heads trying to figure out a physical problem. We’re thinking about trying to solve something that is based on natural and involuntary movement.

In golf, there’s a time to use our intellect: we need to make strategic decisions, choose appropriate targets, consider the environment, be cognizant of our emotions, and be aware of our thinking.

But ultimately when we hit the ball, golf is physical. The brain is running the show, but it’s working in an instinctive way as it sends signals that move your body. In the same way you cannot explain how you walk down a set of stairs; you cannot explain how to properly swing a golf club. We honestly don’t know.

As Fred Shoemaker has said, “Are we arrogant enough to think we know what neuron jumps from the synapse that causes a muscle to contract or relax?”

But we are amazing creatures who have incredible instinctive abilities that allow us to develop skills as we learn and gain experiences.

Here’s what I’m offering you when you’re struggling—rather than searching for the fix, feeling or magic move, do some exploration around how you are responding to a target.

In the same way that you somehow manage to walk up or down a set of stairs without falling, when you focus on a target and allow yourself to instinctively swing toward it, your body will self-organize in a way that allows you to send the ball to the target. (Note that your focus is on the target out there; the ball is not the target. This is a big subject that I’ll save for another day.) It doesn’t mean you are going to hit perfect shots; you still need to develop skill through experience.

When you allow yourself to move in an instinctive fashion, you are not thinking. You are not hoping that your search has allowed you to find the magic move, fix or feeling, and you’re not using your mind to move your body parts.

When you allow yourself to move instinctively in relation to the target, you allow yourself to notice what you’re doing. If you combine this instinctual experience with non-judgmental awareness, you will allow yourself to notice and observe what’s really happening. And it’s incredible what you can discover, and how interesting and fascinating this process can be. It’s like a naturally curious child discovering how a teeter totter works. It’s the difference between joyful discovery and anguished searching that we do as adults.

If you’re feeling like you’ve lost your game or a part of it, I’m inviting you to approach golf in a way that’s often referred to as beginner’s mind. Rather than having pre-conceived notions about what should happen and the correct way of doing things, come at it with the mindset that you’re in the process of discovering and learning.

You won’t always get what you want right away or see immediate results, but if you approach your game with curiousness and non-judgmental awareness, golf won’t feel like a desperate search accompanied by the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

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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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