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MentalRule : Zen and the art of golf
by Dr. Gregg Steinberg

"I never worry about the future. It will come soon enough" Albert Einstein

Phil Jackson is known as the Zen coach of basketball. He drew from Native American religions and Zen Buddhism to help guide the Chicago Bulls to six world championships and the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive titles. One of the main philosophies of Buddhism is staying in the moment. Buddhists believe that regardless of how fleeting the moment, the moment is now and it should be appreciated with all your heart and energy. Such a philosophy promotes letting go of all your doubts and worries which allows you to concentrate all your energies on the present task at hand.. Phil Jackson shared this wisdom with his players and used these principles as part of his coaching techniques.

Michael Jordan is one of Phil Jackson's disciples who took this philosophy to heart both on and off the basketball court. Michael believes in playing for the moment and has stated, "Each time I step on the basketball court, I never know what will happen. I live for the moment. I play for the moment" Michael Jordan also noted that being purely wrapped up in the moment has allowed him to play basketball without any self-criticism or doubt or inhibition of any kind.

Comparable to Michael Jordon's talent on the basketball court was Bobby Jones' ability on the golf course. Although Bobby Jones did not recognize it as a Zen philosophy, he followed the principle of playing for the moment and believed that this was key to his great play. He stated, "It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it"

Another all-time great who followed the Zen philosophy was Walter Hagen. While he was known for his flamboyance, he also had a great golfing mind. He knew he was going to miss a lot of shots, but he knew it was essential to focus on the next shot and let go of the past. In words of timeless wisdom, he once commented "If you worry about the ones you missed, you are going to keep missing them"

Today's successful professionals also know the importance of being in the moment. Lee Janson, winner of two U.S. Opens attributes a lot of his success to his playing golf in the moment Lee recognized that the main reason for his winning the 1993 U.S Open at Baltusrol was that he did not allow himself to look beyond the shot he was playing. (3)

Many instructors also express Zen philosophies in their teachings. One such instructor was Harvey Penick. Most know him as an author and teacher of such golfing greats as Mickey Wright, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite.. One of Harvey's bits of pure wisdom that he taught all his students was to "Take Dead Aim". This phrase means you should pay your very best attention to what you are doing in the present moment without any fear or doubt.

Unfortunately, there are times when even the best golfers lose their Zen. It happened to Michael Campbell at the 1995 British Open. He was leading the tournament with rounds of 71, 71 and an incredible 65. That Saturday night he lay in bed awake thinking of all the consequences of his winning the tournament. He thought of the benefits to his finances as well as how a win at a major would change his life forever. He focused well ahead of himself and he paid the price with a 76 on the final day, finishing third.

There is an old Buddhist saying, "When an individual tries to catch two birds with one stone, he usually ends up not catching any". Focusing on past follies or wishful rewards on future holes decreases the chance of catching any type of bird in the present moment.

Copyright Dr. Gregg Steinberg. All rights reserved.

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