My story of getting into and learning golf was unexpected. Like many things that one does not plan for my 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.