Make it your intention to have an intention

Yes, your friendly, neighbourhood golf and performance coach became that guy.

The no-talking, sulking, pouting, fast-walking angry man that no one wants to play golf with. In the middle of a round, I played in a state of barely contained rage, while I thought that ‘I should just quit golf right now.’

A proud moment for sure for a guy who coaches people on how not to choke or freak out on the golf course.

This blog is about how golf professional George McNamara walked me—metaphorically—back off the ledge, and gave me one of the greatest lessons that I’ve received in golf and life as a player and coach.

George is a wonderful coach to his students, a terrific mentor to dozens of golf professionals, and he’s my friend.

Any time that I’ve needed to talk to him, get some counsel or just connect, George makes time for me. His students and friends say the same thing.

He offered me some wonderful advice around using intention to navigate our way through rocky shoals. And like most of George’s wisdom, he only gave it because he had lived it.

This blog is also my way of saying thanks to George. And to offer him some support.

George had tumour removed a few weeks ago. At age 73, he’s undergoing chemo treatments. Everyone in George’s world is thinking about and pulling for him. At the end of this blog, I’ll share how you might be able to support George.

I met George at an Extraordinary Golf coaches workshop delivered by Fred Shoemaker in 2017, and we’ve been friends ever since. George operates The Golf Zone golf and entertainment facility in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania.

George has been a PGA of America Master Professional for nearly 25 years, and he’s been a friend and colleague of Shoemaker’s for nearly 20 years, so George is one hell of a golf coach.

In the summer of 2019, I was struggling with my driver. I was pulling my drives left—auto-reload-instant-double-left-of-left left. Exasperated, I reached out to George. We exchanged some videos. He noted that my head was well behind the ball in my set-up, and that I needed to get my head more over the ball.

I was ecstatic because my driving improved instantly. I still hit the occasional drive left, but only periodically.

However, as the weeks went on, the magic began to wane. During one particular round, I was frustrated and reached way back into my bag of swing thoughts for an old nugget.

Eureka! It worked! I was killing it. Oh joy, oh bliss.

I excitedly went into the next round. I promptly hit four tee balls dead left in eight holes that led to a front nine 46.

The score didn’t bother me that much. It was my reaction.

“What concerned me the most was that I played holes 5-11 in a state of barely contained rage. I could not let my anger go. Everything I teach my clients went out the window,” I wrote in an email to George.

“I was a petulant, pouting, fast-walking, no-talking angry man. I thought: ‘I f***ing hate this. When am I ever going to get this game? When will I finally take my game to the next level?’

“I left the course angry, drove home like a mad little boy, banged cupboards at home and put on the loudest, angriest music I could find.” (If you must know, it was Break Stuff by Limp Biskit. The link is to the cleaned-up version!)

I was embarrassed and frustrated. For Pete’s sake, I was a coach. Why would anyone come to a lunatic hacker like me for coaching?

I shared the email with Howard Glassman, the co-host of our Swing Thoughts podcast, and he suggested we invite George on the show for an “intervention.” (Check out episode #107. It’s pretty funny. Fast forward to the 26th minute for our discussion with George.)

George reminded me that changing parts of a golf motion takes a long time.

I told George: “I know!”

My swing wasn’t the issue. It was my behaviour. I was yanked right back into my old stuff like an addict. I fell back into a pattern of alleviating my fear by grasping on to any action that I felt would instantly solve the problem, and relieve my anxiety.

My knee-jerk reaction had nothing to do with logic, weighing my choices and making a sound decision.

It was more of a compulsion. I felt out of control, in chaos, desperate. I wanted out of my misery. In seeking salvation in golf mechanics, I was like an alcoholic under stress reaching for a drink. If you’re not an avid golfer, this may seem a stretch, but when I’ve told this story to other golfers, they get it. We can get crazy.

George said I had a choice. I could certainly play golf focused on results. But the problem is that we have no control over results. We can influence them, but we have no control. Playing for results is a lose-lose game.

Or we can play golf so we can learn and get something positive out of every round.

He suggested that I play the ‘awareness game.’

“You can ask yourself on the first tee, what’s my intention? What do I want to pay attention to for the next four hours? Regardless of results, can you stay committed to your intention?”

As examples of intentions, they could include focusing on pre-shot process for every shot, or feeling the clubhead, or deep breathing before every shot, or being a great playing companion. (Or—can you imagine?—just to have fun.)

These intentions are process-oriented, which we have full control over and ultimately lead to better performance when we integrate them into our games.

George said: “When you play, can you stick to an intention? So that regardless whether you hit it left or right, you’re evaluating if you stayed focused on your intention, not on the result. In an awareness game, you cannot lose.”

I told George that I agreed with him 100%, but it’s still a heck of a challenge and that’s another reason that golf is such a challenging and seductive game.

Like all coaches, he knows it because he’s lived it. He related his own experience with learning the value of intention.

George said that while he was attending his first Extraordinary Golf coaches’ workshop, he told Shoemaker he was frustrated that he wasn’t making faster progress with his game.

Shoemaker told him: “When your commitment to your intention is greater than your addiction to an outcome, you’ll change your golf swing.”

George asked, “Are you calling me an addict?”

Fred: “Yes.”

George: “It hit me right between the eyes. I said, ‘Whoa!’”

George’s intervention with me made a similar wallop. Intention has become a key part of my coaching, in playing the game, and in living every day.

Thanks George. All the best my friend in your healing journey.

If you wish to send George a get-well note, please email me at the address below and I’ll pass it along to him.

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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