Category Archives: Sport

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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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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Golden Girl

The phrase ‘A nation expects’ was on everyone’s lips recently as Katie Taylor boxed for Ireland at the London 2012 Katie Taylor Olympics. The unassuming young woman from Bray, County Wicklow, who has won 5 European and 4 World  championships was the favourite for gold and, thankfully the national welfare, she delivered. It was a brilliant achievement for someone who has been so dedicated to her sport and she is a classic example of hard work, sweat and sheer will to win that she must be applauded. She has set the bar very high but her powerful performances and humble demeanor have endeared her to everyone and not only those keen on sport. Well done that girl – you’re the best!

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Olympic Spirit

Looking at the action from the London 2012 Olympics I was reminded of a short story that I wrote a little while ago. ItEamonn Coghlan was set in 1976, during the Montreal Olympics, and features Eamonn ‘Cocker’ Coghlan , sometimes known as ‘The Chairman of the Boards’, running in the 1500 metres final. I am sure it was exciting being in the stadium watching the race, but nothing like the goings-on in a small bar in Dingle, County. Oh, what a night!  Enjoy.

Come On Cocker!

 

The morning air was still and warm – again. It had been the same for weeks, and although uncomfortable at times, nobody was complaining. After all, such fine weather in Ireland was really something to enjoy, and the summer of 1976 was truly memorable. Whether it was caused by increased sunspot activity or the result of some crazy, Russian scientific experiment gone wrong, nobody really cared and the country smiled like never before.

            After breakfast outside our tent, in a golden field about a mile from Glengariff, we set off for the golf course. We spent the next four hours under a blue sky and were burnt by a dry, steady breeze. The clubs we hired had seen better days and one of them lost its head when I hit a shot to the green on the second hole. The dirty, chrome lump spiralled slowly against the blue canvas – it was pathetic and the source of some smart jibes for the rest of the holidays. ‘I hope Cocker doesn’t do that tonight,’ quipped Paddy, setting the others off. I agreed, silently, and rammed the broken club into my bag.

            Later that night we were part of a nervous crowd that waited expectantly, in a small pub, for the pictures from the Montreal Olympics to come through. After what seemed like an age we saw the runners jogging back and forth as they loosened up. The semi-final of the 1500 metres was about to begin and our man, Eamonn ‘Cocker’ Coughlan, was the favourite. He was Ireland’s first real sporting superstar and the excitement that his performances had generated was palpable. ‘Ireland expects’ was the headline on most newspapers and on the night Cocker didn’t fail. He won easily and we shouted his name until the roof almost lifted off the pub. Later, much later, we happily staggered back to the campsite under a moonlit sky and dreamt of gold medals before drifting off to sleep.

            The next few days were as before, hot and humid. We made our way along the coast, swimming and sightseeing in the hot, tingling air. We visited the ruins of old castles and monasteries that lay eerily silent. In an old graveyard butterflies fluttered gently about us, pausing now and then on top of cracked, lichen-covered headstones. The peacefulness was sharply at odds with the mayhem of watching Cocker the other night, and we moved away lost in thought and nervously thinking of the final. It was going to be a big night, and our thoughts drifted west, across the Atlantic, to our man in the green vest.

            We drove on and arrived in Dingle on the day of the final and pitched our tent just outside the town. After a quick visit to the local butcher where Aidan bought steaks and onions, we ate dinner outside our tent and talked about Cocker’s chances. The conversation went back and forth excitedly, but finally we all agreed that our man was going ‘to do the business’. It was a nervy time and none of us could talk of anything else before we headed into town to watch history being made. ‘Come on Cocker,’ we shouted and sprinted playfully along the dusty road with the strains of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ belting out from a nearby tent.

            The streets were packed as people chatted noisily, discussing the race. We worked our way through the crowd before finally squeezing into a lively and expectant pub that was packed tight. At this stage it was standing room only and we slowly worked our way to the bar and got a bird’s eye view of the television. With an hour to go before the big event the noise level was deafening as the new athletics experts discussed the only topic on everyone’s lips.

‘Course he’ll do it,’ said a guy beside me a confident grin showing from behind the two creamy pints he was passing back to a friend. I nodded agreement, let him pass, and caught the barman’s eye.

            The excitement grew intensely with sporadic bursts of ‘Come on Cocker’ filling the smoky bar. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd went wild when the TV screen switched to show the racetrack and the image of Coughlan in his green vest. More shouts and whoops of encouragement rent the air and the crowd seemed to push forward to be nearer their hero.

            The camera moved slowly along showing each runner in turn and we cheered when Coughlan grinned. Soon, not soon enough, the runners took their marks at the starting line – everything was ready to go.

The pub fell silent.

Everyone seemed to stop breathing as the runners leaned forward, shook the last ounce of tension from the hands, and waited.

There was aloud explosion and the crowd jumped as one when the starter fired his gun.

            What happened next was truly unbelievable; a moment of high farce if ever there was one! As the runners took the first bend a guy sitting beneath the television, stood up heading for the toilet, and stumbled backwards. He stuck out his hand to steady himself but only managed to knock the TV switch to off in the process. The crowd was stunned, looking at the blank screen and wondering if the world had ended. Howls and screams of fury rang out in the madness before the pub owner scampered athletically over the counter, stretched full length over a group of shaking heads, and hit the button. Slowly, desperately slowly, the picture came back and the race continued and Cocker ran like a man possessed. We shouted, screamed, cried out and his name as if our lives depended on it, but sadly it was not enough. Our man was denied, but not before he left us an unforgettable memory of that long, hot summer.

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