You know how the golf announcers talk about pros being so even tempered that you can’t tell if they’ve shot 63 or 83? That’s not me. I’m not cheerful. I don’t think positive. I believe chicken soup is for soup kitchens, not the soul.
A simmering temper is my constant course companion. A casual observer might assume I’m shooting a smooth 95, even if I card a 75. So dispatching me to visit mental-game expert and Zen Golf author Dr. Joe Parent is like sending a eunuch to a brothel. Sitting down to breakfast with Parent at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in California, I had visions of being asked to chant to the Birdie Buddha.
Parent had been warned that I wasn’t yearning for inner peace. Which was fine, Doc said, because he wasn’t offering that. Before my cornflakes got soggy he had pinpointed the source of my on-course angst. I was performing against my own expectations. I’d win matches I didn’t know I was in because the only score I kept was my own. And there was the problem: I was fixated on how I stood against par. I was score obsessed. Parent focused on the trigger for my on-course anger — losing the chance at posting a decent number because of a blow-up hole. Since that ugly hole can come at the first or the 18th, it makes for a long day of pent-up angst, often unleashed in an X-rated torrent of self-flagellation seldom heard this side of a padded room. I once fired my driver at my cart, missed, and struck a friend in the wrist.
After breakfast, we set out in search of — well, if not tranquility then controlled rage. It went well. Until the 16th hole. On a 203-yard downhill par-3, there was O.B. left, right and over the narrow green, with bunkers short. I bunted a hybrid into the sand. “I can live with that,” I said, to the slack-jawed astonishment of a colleague who has witnessed many of my indictable tantrums. “What pod did you crawl out of,” he asked me, “and what have you done with my friend?” It didn’t take long to find me again. Skulled bunker shot + flubbed chip = meltdown. I stalked to 17 in a flushed rage. Fueled by fury, I pummeled a drive down the middle, then played away from greenside danger on the approach shot before lipping out a birdie putt.
Walking off the green, I saw a thin smile on Parent’s face. Then I got it. Every fire-breathing shot I’d played on that hole was the same selection I would have made in a calm state. The anger was bubbling over but hadn’t dictated my decision-making or hurt my swing. “Some golfers are meant to play with a little rage,” the Doc said. “Maybe you’re one of them. If you channel your anger into a ‘no hold back’ swing, and not ‘swing out of my shoes,’ it’s a good thing.” He wasn’t admitting defeat. On the contrary, his work was done. In the months since our round together at Ojai, my newfound freedom to vent — and Parent’s course-management advice — has borne dividends, including a personal best 73. The rage definitely remains near the surface. What’s gone, however, is the belief that one bad hole ruins a round. And that’s chicken soup for a tortured soul.