If I manage to write this before I fall asleep it’ll be an accomplishment in itself. I’m on a flight back to Heathrow from Geneva, more ready than I can describe for two weeks at home. I haven’t had more than two weeks at home this year since January… and I probably won’t until December… at which point I’ll probably decide to leave again as the reality of winter in England hits me. I wouldn’t change the travelling part of professional golf – I wouldn’t be any good at staying in one place for very long anyway – but times like this definitely make me appreciate home comforts. Being constantly on the move makes it difficult to get your thoughts in order, never mind your life… the thing I’m looking forward to most about some time at home is exactly that – I can only describe it as taking my brain out, giving it a massage, and filing all the scattered lessons, fluctuating emotions and burgeoning ideas into their appropriate places.
Being aware enough to learn lessons is one thing, but with the day-to-day demands of getting on with a career, holding onto those lessons is the hardest part. It’s like in school when you think you’ve grasped something while it’s being taught to you. You get given a long-term homework project on it which you inevitably leave until the night before and suddenly discover you can’t remember a single thing. Golf is the same, life is the same. If you don’t carve out time to reflect on the things you’re learning, you’re going to forget them. And fast forward months, years later – you find yourself in a situation that throws those very same lessons you didn’t quite acknowledge all over again.
So anyway… this blog is as much for me as anyone else. Me trying to capture this moment before it gets left behind in the mountains of France and Geneva, left on a podium in Gleneagles, left on an autographed glove at Lytham, left in a pot bunker of Gullane. I came third this week in an event on the Access series, with actually one of my best performances of the year. There’s a multitude of reasons that happened, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of the hard work or analysis I’ve put in. But bit by bit in these few weeks, I’ve been letting go. Letting go of the technical thoughts, of the questions, of the doubt. All of that came from a rational place – being away for a while combined with not great results led some technical issues to come in, which I had to work hard to get rid of. Whether those technical issues crept in from a mental standpoint is another topic… or maybe it’s the exact same one. It’s a fine line between trusting your own ability and being aware of your own tendencies. But this week, I was almost forced to trust my own ability – I didn’t have the physical or mental energy to go and work on things I thought might or might not be there. Or to create as close to a bomb-proof course strategy as possible. Or to do endless putting drills until I was sure I wouldn’t miss any 6 footers. Instead, I slept as much as I possibly could, and tailored my warm up to what I knew might be the difference in this particular tournament (reading the greens properly)… and went out and played. Without really thinking. Without worrying. And found a freedom that brought me within a couple of holes of winning a tournament.
Trying to find that state of mind in tournaments is I guess what every golfer is searching for. We find it in flashes; and as soon as we recognise it, it disappears. Call it being in the zone, flow, Zen, whatever. The point is, trying to find it is the complete opposite way to find it. But when we find it, that’s when the ability takes over. Every hour of effort, of practice, of learning that we’ve ever put in, that’s when all of that shows itself. Not when we’re trying to force it out. But rather than trying to tug on the zip that reveals the best version of ourselves, staying quiet, staying calm, staying patient… brings it out all by itself.
We’ve all got a terrible habit of getting in our own way. There are enough things blocking our paths to success… and yet we’ve all got the power to get rid of the most powerful one. If we could only stop trying so hard.