Golf and Music

Golf and Music – the Four Phases

I remember a story of an English guest conductor who cued the horn solo four times in rehearsal, and the poor old French veteran in the solo seat botched it every time. The conductor said repeatedly, “Non, Monsieur, attack zee note, attack zee note.” Finally, the poor player replied in his best English that he had indeed attacked the note, but that it had hit him back. He obviously never got through the four phases without dragging each one behind him – the same way it works for golf, as I’ve heard inspirational speakers tell it. As I think of my own struggles on the course, I’m buying it, and beginning to realize that it’s not the shot that’s the problem, but my relationship to the shot, the next shot, and the result of each.

prepare 2 Of course, we must prepare, gauge the yardage, spot the hazards, make decisions about the probability of success, and choose high percentage outcomes. The problem comes after we’ve chosen the club (the horn) and address the ball. Phase 1 – preparation, should be done at that point. However, while we hover over the ball, waiting for the right waggle, we’re agonizing over it as if Mars will invade if we blow it, and we will never recover from a bad shot. Those decisions of phase 1 are done, kaput. You’ve done your best, now forget about them. Don’t second-guess. You called on all the knowledge you cculd muster, and now you “deserve” (phase 2) to hit that shot. It still doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go according to plan. You deserve to hit it based on your decisions – so no more self-incrimination while standing over the ball. It’s the same with music. I don’t know if you’ll play that phrase as beautifully as you did in the practice room, but three hundred successful repetitions ought to stand for something when you get out there in your tux. Do your best to feel like you’re qualified to be there, to play that phrase or hit that shot. It belongs to you.
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prepare 1The third phase is to “commit.” It doesn’t just mean that one should commit to the shot, although a good deal of positive thinking is helpful. Shun your past in that moment, the promotion you lost, the sure eagle you turned into a double bogey twenty yards from the green in 1968. However, even if the worst happens, commit to the result. The round isn’t over, you deserve the chance to recover, and all things are possible. If you blow the phrase because the first note hit you back, you now have a larger library of experience with which to triumph next time – doesn’t matter if you’re carrying a viola or a seven-iron. Instead of playing shot by shot, rising and falling emotionally with each, conceive a larger strategy, and accept that a lot of minute successes and defeats go into the big picture. You have eighteen holes to make this right – come on, get out of those bushes.
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Accept – that’s phase 4. You don’t quit your profession over “blopping” the B flat at the end of the Beethoven – you fix it for the next night. The same goes for problem clubs and problem holes. Don’t terrorize yourself on the range, enjoy fixing it. Enjoy being there. You could be in a salt mine in eastern Russia, for Heaven’s sake. Accept and enjoy the process, and maybe practice and play will start to look more alike after a short while.

Prepare, deserve, commit, accept – that’s what some of the experts tell me, for any activity that requires skill and long-term concentration – 18 at Pebble Beach and Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. There’s a reason you loved being there in the first place. Carry it with you all day, and have a great time – at least, that’s what they tell me.

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