Baseline, Part 2: The Mental Game

In my piece from November 13th, I wrote about my baseline golfing abilities from a physical perspective, but that's only part of the picture. At least as important is what's generally referred to as the mental game. Perhaps you noticed in that piece that there's a fair amount of language about inability, frustration and not having fun.

Because Jerry and I practiced a lot but didn't play much--only that one nine-hole round--there was only so deep into the mental game that I could explore, at least as it pertained to golf. During practice, I noticed lapses in concentration, frustration, and times of not enjoying myself. But practice and performance are two very different things.

However, over the course of the summer and fall, I played a lot of tennis, and what I kept discovering within myself were mental/emotional reactions accompanied by body sensations that I recognized, via the discernment that comes with centering, as the same sensations I felt and the same behavioral patterns I engaged in as when I played tennis thirty years ago.

For example, I choked a lot when I played tennis as a kid. If I was beating someone, and he began to show frustration and anger, I would tend to ease off and, to my own perplexed frustration and dismay, eventually lose. Earlier this year I faced a similar situation. I was winning a match handily, and my opponent started getting really angry. I found myself falling into the pattern from my youth--easing off, dropping games, and so on. As I noticed what was happening, I also noticed that it was accompanied by some complicated physical sensations. When I dove deeply into those sensations, I suddenly realized that the pattern from my youth stemmed partly from empathy--I felt bad along with my opponent--and partly from a fear that winning would make the other person not like me. So I would choke, and the other person would feel better. Of course, then I would feel very bad indeed.

That pattern may have "worked," after a fashion, for a shy, sensitive kid who really wanted to be liked, but I'm older now, and I'm not interested in making others feel better by making myself feel bad. In this specific case, once I noticed what was happening, I recentered via the breath and closed out the match.

Now, what I'm describing may look like something I should be discussing with a therapist--"I was a choker as a kid, and I'd like to tease out the reason why"--and there is an element of therapy when these sorts of things come up in the body, but Training Tiger Woods is all about meeting and overcoming our limitations, and what I've been continually noticing since we began this project is how many of my negative patterns I recognize from years and years ago. They are still concentrated in the body. What's been critical is recognizing, as I did in the tennis match I just described, that those patterns served me in some way at some point in my life.

It is very uncommon that we make bad choices in order to hurt ourselves. It is very common that we make unskillful choices, thinking we are helping ourselves or others or both. In many ways, the techniques we're describing in Training Tiger Woods are about finally learning to bring skill to the mental/emotional/energetic patterns that underlie our athletic endeavors.

Let's come back to golf and what I said in the earlier piece about my baseline abilities. What I wrote there is descriptively true: I'm not a very good golfer and it frustrates me. But that day on the range, I also began to recognize within my body the same feelings I felt back when I was young and used to go golfing with my dad on Saturday mornings. I was a poor golfer and it made me angry and eventually I quit. I see now that my relationship to not being very good at golf is substantially a pattern still carried forward from my younger self. On some level, that pattern served me at the time. It no longer does. Changing it will not be easy--I've carried it within myself for most of my life--but I believe that the tools Jerry and I are developing will finally allow me to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *