You make your way through the heather and mistletoe onto the 18th tee. It’s an enchanting, but daunting par three. You ease your way through the rowan bushes, hazel and willow trees to get a panoramic view of the whole arcane course from this elevated promontory. You smell the rosemary and cinnamon as the sun starts to fade on what has been a perfect autumn afternoon. Below you the horseshoe lake in front of the green glimmers as the setting sun’s rays play across the surface. The crickets chirp languidly as you shield your eyes to gaze down onto the crisp emerald putting surface and see a circle of your golfing fraternity performing the ‘lining up of the putt’ ceremony.
They alternate, criss-crossing the viridescent dance floor in a succession of ritualistic choreographed patterns handed down from generation to generation. It’s like watching some ancient gavotte or floral dance as they take their turns with their putters, bow to the flag and move slowly, gracefully around the green stepping nimbly over invisible lines. Slowly they reach the climax of the ceremony and you faintly hear a set of orchestrated incantations and hexes; “eyes over the ball”, “eyes over the ball”, “accelerate the clubhead”, “accelerate the clubhead”, “never up, never in”, “never up, never in”.
As the gentle breeze carries the last cry of the congregation into the light of the waiting clubhouse you make a mistake; you start to think.
You’ve had a decent round and you know you really should be enjoying this. Your swing’s been excellent for the seventeen holes so far. You’ve putting solidly all afternoon up to this point. So, why is it then that all you can think about is the passage in ‘The Right Stuff’ where Alan Shephard is waiting for lift off on the Apollo moon mission. He’s not thinking about the excitement, or even the danger of 7.5 million tons of thrust being generated beneath him. All he’s thinking as he lies waiting for lift off is “Please, Dear God, don’t let me mess this up. Please, Dear God, don’t let me mess this up.” (I paraphrase).
You take a deep breath and repeat this mantra to Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Parsvanatha, Tyche, Hectate, Dagda, Ganesh, Confucious, Allah and your Guardian Angel. There are two scenarios playing in your mind. In the first scenario you hit your 6 iron a mile in the air and it drops like a stone eight feet past the flag, bounces once and spins back to crawls slowly down the green inching toward the flag. It seems to be going in but suddenly stops. “Bad luck” you hear. In the second scenario you clear the pond by an inch. It bounces forward onto the green then spins back slowly, slowly into the enticing, alluring, watery hell. “Oh bad luck” you still hear.
But it’s not really bad luck, is it? Many would argue that it’s karma. This would teach that similar actions will lead to similar results; Buddhists would say, “Good actions lead to happy states”; Wiccans would tell you, “The harm you do returns to you threefold”; The Beatles would sing, “The love you make is equal to the love you take”; Confusians would pronounce, “What you do not want done to you, do not do to others.”; and many Christians would chip in (excuse the pun) with “What goes around, comes around”.
One of the few people who would disagree with this assessment would be Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins is not a big fan of luck, or God for that matter. He’s the ultimate “You make your own luck in this world“type of guy. Richard, should he be on the eighteenth tee with you would encourage you to spend less time praying to Fudo, Fortuna, Bastet and Saint Andrew, and more time considering the club/ball interaction where the energy of the club is transferred to the ball by the mass of the clubhead + the velocity (speed + direction) of the swing and the ball’s flight through the air in terms of the angle of the shot (taking into account the air pressure as it leaves the club (not forgetting, hopefully, the resultant change in pressure (and temperature)) and travels over land, water and land again before gently dropping on the putting surface).
Now you hear the voices of the modern day’s gurus, “Stay in the zone”, “Visualise”, “Take one shot at a time”, “Stay in the moment”, “Be of the game not in the game”. Oh no this is getting confusing. Stop. Relax. Breathe. Be positive. Calm. Seek Nirvana.
You breathe. You place the ball on the tee peg and step back. You pick up some grass and throw it into the air, yet have no idea where it comes down. You’re operating on automatic now. You take a few perfect practice swings touch the lucky rabbit’s foot in your pocket and step forward to take the shot.
The next thing you know it’s on the green, three feet from the hole. You have no idea how it got there. Your mind has been a total blank. Tiger Woods could have stepped up to you, taken your club, hit the ball and walked away and you would not have known. In fact you wouldn’t really care. All you can see now is your ball on the green.
After your partners have hit you walk nonchalantly down the path trying to pretend that you do this sort of thing every day. As you step onto the green and repair your pitch mark you notice that the putt’s a little downhill, and instead of three feet it’s grown to six feet. You make a mistake. You start to think.