I started playing golf when I was 10 years old, but I knocked a golf ball around the back yard much earlier than that. My father had some wood-shafted clubs in the basement and a few balls which he let me hit over a little course which he laid out by setting tin cans set in the lawn for holes.
I would put the ball on the ground and think of one thing only: get the ball in the hole. I was too young to think about technique, taking too many shots, anything like that. All I wanted to do was get the ball in the hole, and that’s what I thought about with a child’s singe-minded intensity.
I remember that feeling even today, when I get too caught up in how I’m hitting a shot instead of why. The purpose of what I am about to do is to get the ball in the hole. There is no other.
That’s why, when I make adjustments to my chipping stroke because of an unusual situation, and I think only of the adjustments, the shot isn’t always satisfactory. When I look at the situation and adjust my setup and stroke with the hole in mind, I come up with some pretty interesting stuff and it works a lot more often.
Golf isn’t about making good shots, or doing what we practiced last time at the range. At the moment you tee up the ball you should be thinking only about how this shot will help you get the ball in the hole, because that’s what golf is about.
I’m lucky. I have this uncluttered memory of pure golf that only a child can play to fall back on. It’s not an intellectual thing. It’s a relentless, desperate attraction to the hole with which nothing else has a chance to compete.
Don’t think that I am not in favor of technique. Good technique will get the ball in the hole quicker than bad. My grandson has taken lessons and I help him on the course with a few suggestions, but only when things aren’t going well at all.
I try my best, though, to make sure that play doesn’t get confused with practice. When we practice, technique matters. When we play, only the hole matters.
That lets you hit any shot without fear, make mistakes without remorse, and play offensive golf for the entire round. And that’s a fun way to play.