Category Archives: Golf

Golf – now and Zen!

Part 3

 Set of golf clubs

Over the next few days I became aware that I was paying attention to things when I picked them up; my briefcase, a bag of groceries or a bottle of wine. It wasn’t just about their weight anymore as I began to ‘feel’ their existence in my fingertips. It felt as though I was developing another sense, and in a sense I suppose I was. If this was what Zen was talking about then I couldn’t wait to meet him again.

‘And how are you?’ he asked.

I wrung my fingers like a pianist about to play. ‘Good, thanks.’

He grinned. ‘I see you’ve been working – feel different.’

I nodded. ‘Sure does. I feel…better. I’m more aware now about what I have in my hand.’

‘That’s exactly what we’re trying to get, because when we do it will make swinging a club so much better.’ He sounded pleased. ‘Take a club out and let me see your grip.’

I did as he said and carefully wrapped my fingers around the grip of my eight iron. I undid my grip a few times until I was finally comfortable and swung the club easily back and forth a few times.

Zen looked at my hands. ‘Now roll your wrists – left, now right.’

Again I did what he said.

‘Well I don’t see any sign of white knuckles now….that’s an improvement.’ He quickly snatched the club out of my hands. ‘That’s better, much better.’

I was stunned and my face showed it.

‘It’s alright, don’t worry. It just proves the point that I made the last time about holding the club too firmly. If your grip is too strong you cannot really appreciate the nuances of the swing. You might as well be swinging an axe, and we both know that swinging a golf club needs more subtlety than that. Agreed?’

‘Agreed.’

We went to the driving range and with my club Zen made another beautifully, balanced swing. Could I, would I, ever be able to swing that club the way he was doing, was a thought that kept running through my mind as ball after ball fizzed into the blue and straight down the fairway. It was a dream, I knew, but one that was maybe a little closer to achieving with Zen’s guidance. He handed the club back. ‘Ok, it’s your turn.’

I was nervous, but excited.

‘Relax, breathe easily….it’s about control.’

I took a few deep breaths and slowly exhaled. I could feel my pulse slow down and gripped the club the way I had been practising for the last few days. Don’t rush it, I told myself, and looked down the fairway.

Zen smiled encouragement.

I took a last look down the fairway, exhaled and swung.

I don’t really remember what happened next but I felt the club make contact with ball which zoomed off the tee, straight down the fairway before making a big, ugly turn to the left.

‘A bit of a hook that, but otherwise pretty good,’ Zen said when he turned.

‘Thanks,’ I said, my throat suddenly as dry as a bone.

‘Yeah, that was pretty good. And how did it feel…different?’

‘Better…it felt much better.’

‘Excellent, I think I might make a golfer out of you yet.’

It was my turn to smile.

‘What many people do not realise is that in order to play this game properly they have to unlearn certain things.’

Unlearn, what do mean?’

‘Well, just like you have learnt to grip the club lightly in order to improve and increase your feel, that meant unlearning your old grip.’

I nodded, not certain where this was going.

‘It’s all about change and most people do not like change. They fear it and are comfortable with what they know. Others, like you, however, embrace it and grow.’ He checked his watch. ‘I’ve got to go now, but keep that idea in mind until next week.

I practised for almost an hour after Zen had left and wondered, not for the first time, was I getting instruction in golf or philosophy. I wasn’t sure, but Zen was one interesting character and I was determined to learn as much I could from him, and maybe how he got his nickname. Now that was something to think about, I said to myself, as I finally hit a ball that flew straight down the fairway. I was pleased and already looking forward to my next lesson/lecture or whatever with Zen.

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Golf – now and Zen! (part 2)

Continuing my golfing journey under the guidance of my teacher, Zen Hogan, I have been practising hard and looking forward to my next lesson.

Wilson Golf Clubs

My Wilson Golf Clubs

Zen Hogan & the Arc of a Drive r – Part 2

 

After my first meeting with Zen Hogan I was keen to learn and Dad was happy to give me his old clubs. They were Wilson ProStaff and he had used them for years, and kept them in really good condition. ‘Treat them well and they will treat you well,’ he often said as I watched him cleaning and adding a little oil to prevent corrosion. It was a useful lesson and one I appreciated when I took a club into the back garden and practised with it. It looked great; the grip firm and holding and the blade and grooves clean and ready for action. The steel shaft glinted in the sunlight, and I knew when I swung it easily back and forth that I had to do justice to this beautiful club. I wasn’t so sure about feeling some kind of ‘oneness’ as Zen had talked about, but there was definitely something that intrigued me. And I wanted to know more.

I watched some videos that Dad had bought and stood in front of the television and copied the stance and movement of the instructors. The low ceiling prevented any swinging of clubs and I had to go into the garden to practise what I had just seen. I swung back and then forward and tried to feel what was happening. It was interesting but I knew I had a long way to go and looked forward to my next lesson and maybe hitting some balls.

‘That’s looking pretty good,’ said Dad who had come home and was watching me from the kitchen.

‘Thanks,’ I replied.

‘Looks like the beginnings of a swing,’ he added.

‘A thing of beauty,’ I said grinning.

‘I’m not sure about that just yet…but definitely a thing,’ he said and left it at that. He wasn’t one for false praise and I knew that he was happy seeing me practise. ‘Keep at it, son, you’re doing fine.’

I nodded and went back to work wondering all the while what Zen was going to say.

 Zen and I walked to the practise range which, thankfully for me, was empty. ‘I hear that you’ve been practising,’ he said ‘let me see what you’ve got.’

I’m not one to get nervous, usually, but as I reached for my eight-iron I could feel my heart speed up and my breath got tighter. He never said a word but stepped back, and waited.

All the confidence that I had brought with me from the practise in the garden seemed to disappear and I made an ugly, rushed swing. I lost my balance and finished by almost falling forward like some unsteady drunk. It was embarrassing and my only saving grace was that there was no ball involved. It probably wouldn’t have mattered as far as the ball was concerned, as I no doubt would have missed by a country mile. It was horrible and I wondered why fate had conspired to play such a trick on me, and especially in front of Zen.

‘Try again,’ he said calmly ‘and relax. It’s the most important thing to do. Swinging the club and hitting the ball are indeed vital, but if you are not relaxed then nothing can be achieved. Absolutely nothing,’ he added and those words were meant to stick.

I nodded and deep down felt as though I had been let in on some secret. My swing, if that’s what you call it, had been so bad that I expected Zen to turn around and leave me to it. But no, he took out my driver and after a few gentle practise swings swung effortlessly and finished perfectly poised like a ballerina. I marvelled yet again at his easy grace and wondered if I could ever get close to being like that. It was a pipe dream, of course, but something that looked so good I was willing to put in some work to see how far I could go.

‘Let me see your grip,’ Zen said and reached down to see my hands.

My hands moved back and forth as he moved the club. ‘You grip the club too hard,’ said ‘it’s much too strong. When you do that you cannot feel the club as anything other than a weapon in your hands and not an extension.’ He pulled the club but I did not it go.

‘Extension, what do you mean?’

He grinned and shook his head. ‘Last time I said that the swing is about a ‘oneness’ – do you remember?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, the word thick in my dry throat.

‘Well, it seems that you have not appreciated what I meant. And what I mean is this’ he added ‘is that you and the club need to work together otherwise you have no chance.’

What was he talking about? ‘I was working with the club,’ I said but not sure it that was the answer.

‘Of course you were, but not the way you should. You need to hold it, of course, but not strangle it like you did. Doing that means that your focus is on holding the club tightly and not on swinging it correctly. You cannot do both things.’

I was flummoxed. ‘Can you show me, please?’

Zen stepped closer and rested the club in his palms and then wrapped his fingers carefully around the grip. ‘Now pull it away from me,’ he said.  

I grabbed the club and pulled it free.

‘You see, now. I was not able to do that when you held the club. It was too strong and most importantly lacked feel.’

‘Feel?’

‘Yes, feel. Just like the feeling in your fingertips you should be able to feel the club at all times. Then it’s an extension of your hand and this, believe me, is what you need to get. Ok?’

I could feel my grip loosen and how much better it felt. Yes, I did believe and watched as Zen took a few more swings, each one a copy of the one before and each one a thing of beauty.

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Neil Armstrong – One Small Step

That’s all it took – one small step – and Neil Armstrong made history. It was the culmination of so many dreams,Apollo 11 dating back to the time when man first looked up at the night sky and wondered. It was the crowing achievement for NASA and a magical, wonderous moment frozen for all time. When he stepped onto the Lunar surface and spoke those famous words, his grammatical error in omitting the indefinite article ‘a’ has made his declaration all the more memorable. They were the words of a clever but humble man, who considering his worldwide fame, preferred to live a quiet life absorbed in his family and professional career. Of all his qualities, and they were many, this ‘Quiet Man’ image has endured and endeared him to people long after his exploits. I, like many, remember where I was on that momentous day, 20th July, 1969 watching those grey, exciting images from a quarter of a million miles away. It was unforgettable, and although he will not take another step, his words will be remembered for all time and, hopefully, be an inspiration for generations to come. Safe journey!

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Golf – now and Zen!

My story of getting into and learning golf was unexpected. Like many things that one does not plan for mySet of golf clubs opportunity came when my father’s game improved hugely (in hs eyes!) and he persuaded me to take some lessons at his club. He had been helped by a new member, Daniel ‘Zen’ Hogan, who was a retired surgeon and brilliant golfer. I learned much from this man and not only about playing golf, for he was a great story-teller and wonderful human being. Along my journey there were plenty of ups and downs, humour and many wise words to take in. This is the first instalment, so if you are ready, read on…and don’t forget to keep your head down!

Zen Hogan and the Arc of a Driver.

 

‘It’s a thing of beauty, son,’ my father said ‘a real thing of beauty.’ How often did I hear my father say these words in the garden as he waggled his golf club back and forth before making a swing? Countless is the answer and he always had a little smile on his face as he did. ‘If you’re going to play golf you’ll have to get lessons from him,’ he said ‘it’s the only way.’

            Dad had always been a good golfer with a handicap of around 11 or 12, and, like others, was keen to improve. But it wasn’t until he met his mentor that his game took a giant leap forward and he seemed to find something. At the time I didn’t know what it was but he certainly was calmer about stuff and life was better. For him and all of us.

            I liked sports but couldn’t really decide on what I liked best; tennis was fun, especially doubles when my partner was okay; football was competitive but players were sometimes unnecessarily abusive, and rugby, well, that was too damned dangerous with scrums collapsing and the thought of a broken neck too much to consider. So I eventually, to my father’s great delight, agreed to take some lessons at the golf club and he arranged for me to meet the man with a swing that was ‘a thing of beauty.’

You don’t always remember meeting somebody for the first time, but when I shook hands with Zen Hogan I knew I would never forget it. He was tall and elegant, a little over six feet, and his dark hair was short and neatly combed. He smiled, no maybe it was a grin, when we met and nodded to my father that his work was done.

‘So you want to learn how to play,’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I replied, immediately aware that he did not mention the word golf. That was different, I thought, and was intrigued.

Now he definitely grinned.

‘Good. And if you are to play, and play well, you must first understand that you have to learn what to do…and do it.’ He raised his brow, questioning.

I nodded, but not sure why, and waited.

‘This game is about you and to know the game is to know about yourself. I can show you what you need to know and you must practise and then find it. It is a journey and the more you put into it the more you will get from it. You will learn about you can do and realise that there is always something to learn. And that in a nutshell is it.’

I didn’t know what to say and just nodded my head, again.

‘Good, now this is where I want to take you,’ he said and leaned down, placed a tee in the ground and placed a ball on it. He stepped back, waggled his driver a few times and was ready. ‘Straight down the middle,’ he said calmly and pointed right down the fairway.

‘Sure,’ I said suddenly trying to keep the excitement from my voice.

Zen stood over the ball, breathed out a few times, took a last look down the fairway, and swung the club. I remember it now in slow motion and I still get a chill. The club came back evenly, not too fast, and at the top of his swing there was the slightest pause, before he began his downswing. His hips moved forward and then the club came whizzing along on a perfect arc before he hit the ball. Bang! The ball rocketed away, a speeding white bullet against the blue canvas above. He finished perfectly balanced with the club around his shoulder and watching the ball as it soared before landing, of course, in the middle of the fairway about three hundred yards away.

I was dumbstruck and felt my mouth fall open. I had seen players do this sort of thing on television but I never expected this. It was unforgettable.

‘You see, it’s easy,’ he said and tapped the club on the ground. ‘It’s you and the club, it’s about oneness.’

I could only nod, but had no idea what he meant. But I did know that I wanted to find out more about this ‘oneness’ thing.

‘That’s all for today. I just wanted to let you see what you can do, and next time we’ll begin.’

We shook hands and all the way home I couldn’t wait until the next time when I could see and learn from Zen Hogan and the arc of a driver.

 

 

           

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Another giant leap for mankind!

Mars

Mars (at night!)

I must admit that the news coming from NASA right now is wonderful. After a decade of hard work and a 9-month journey of over 560 million miles, Curiosity has performed brilliantly and arrived safe and sound on the Red Planet. The fact that we were able to see images of this alien world within minutes of its landing is a testament to the brilliance of the engineers involved. It’s a stunning achievement and maybe the first step (bad choice of words, I know, but I couldn’t help it!) on our journey to having a man (or woman) walk there. How fabulous …and scary will that be? Well done, guys. It’s a helluva ride we’re on and long may it last.

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