Learning can be a crutch that enables inaction

I love golf. If you’ve never played golf you may not realize just how difficult it is to swing a golf club consistently and strike the ball consistently over time. Sometimes you can go an entire round and not feel like you swung the same way twice. It can be maddening. Mastering the sport takes as much mental energy as physical athleticism.

Learning about the golf swing is relatively easy. There are millions of online articles, illustrations, and videos to show you everything there is to know about the perfect golf swing. The problem is that this type of learning is thinking and not doing. Watching golf videos makes you feel like your making progress towards a better golf swing but you’re not. Reading about the perfect grip or take away conjures up images in your head that you can be that guy that dominates your local muni course. But those are simply thoughts, some might even say delusions. You will never become an excellent golfer, or excellent anything for that matter, by only thinking about it.

Visualization is okay. Simply thinking is not. Thinking and thinking and thinking about being a better golfer without getting out on the range and doing focused, deliberate practice is going to lead to more misery. So learn what you can from all that stuff but be damn sure you get out into the physical world and start doing it. Don’t let the plethora of information out there about what you want to accomplish assist you in thinking your way to inaction.

Putt the Damn Ball

I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.

-Ty Webb, Caddyshack

I’ve told this story in one form or another for years. I enjoy playing golf. I’ve been playing since I was about 6 years old. As far back as I can remember I have been a pretty decent putter (at least until recently). I’ve discovered something about putting that is counter-intuitive and makes no sense to most people who ask me about it. You don’t need to think about the putt too much, if at all.

When you watch professional golfers read a putt they will walk around the putt, look at it from all angles, squat down and cup their hands over their eyes to remove shadows, ask their caddy to give an opinion, and use any other number of methods to get an accurate read. That might be okay in pro golf where every stroke could mean hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. They may be able to even read it accurately and actually hit the ball on the intended line with the intended speed. The problem is, most of us amateurs don’t have those skills.

No amount of reading the green is going to help you if you have the yips or an inconsistent stroke that couldn’t hit it online anyways. Furthermore, if you are holding up the pace of play so that you can be absolutely sure you have the read down only to hit a putt 10 feet short and 5 feet offline – well your playing partners and the people behind you secretly hate you and you are detracting from everyone’s enjoyment of the game.

Take a deep breath. Look at the putt from one angle. Trust your body to read the green and make the appropriate stroke. Then just putt the damn ball! If you learn to stop over-thinking the putt the likelihood of you relaxing and hitting a better one will be higher. You’ll be amazed when the quality of your putting improves with less time spent thinking about it. Trust your instincts. Your body knows what to do.

Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You’re not being the ball Danny.