On the course, at our best, we are inside ourselves, our very best selves. Things, within the limitations of our abilities and know-how, go smoothly and we play almost as well as we can. For some this lasts just a couple of shots, a hole or a run of holes. Sometimes the spell - because that’s what it is, a kind of magic - lasts for half the round, an outward or inward half. It’s why we often collect our thoughts on the 10th tee and give ourselves a stern talking to, knowing that a new nine is a chance to begin again, to work some sorcery, to find our inner calm. For the best players, as we know, this alchemy can last for a full round, even for a 72-hole tournament, though such things are rare. Typically, a top-flight golfer will have to endure at least one tournament round where they fall a little from grace, finding themselves back on earth scraping a couple of birdies and fighting for pars to hold their lead.
Most golfers never get close to such glories. But many of us are familiar with the feeling where we are woken from the reverie, typically towards the end of a game as we realise we’re looking at a score of some significance. That’s often the thing that shatters the dream. It’s why so many professionals refuse to look at scoreboards and, instead, play it one shot at a time, never looking up or out.
Why can’t we stay in that place, maintaining that internal happiness and concentration, enjoying a purity of purpose? It’s because of hopes and ambitions, reality dawning. We get distracted by details and desire.
But not all golfers who put in the hours and attain excellence can attain tour status. A fair few regular golfers wield their sticks seemingly as well as some guys on tour but, when it comes down to it, they can’t shoot really low, can’t keep it together for long enough to make a living from the game. On the range, working quietly, you might mistake them for world beaters. Yet something is missing from their skill set. Maybe it’s the short game, probably the putting. But often it’s the ability to silence the world and to get in the zone. And that’s where the world’s best spends a lot of their time: ‘in the zone’.
The great golfer will overcome all unsettling and nerve-wrangling difficulties and arrive in that delightfully tranquil domain of the mind. And all’s well there, at least while the putts drop and the drives soar. Then though, a little rain falls on their parade - a small but costly misadventure in a bunker, a bad break, a gust of wind, a noise from the crowd - and they are unceremoniously returned to earth, where, as PG Wodehouse might have it, shots are lost because of ‘the uproar of butterflies in adjoining meadows’. If flow is to be maintained such small aberrations must be ignored or overcome.
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