Trust your instincts on the golf course

I’m writing this dispatch from Dornoch, in the Highlands of Scotland. And I’m letting go, golf-wise, of some things Canadian and American — most notably I think, the tendency to play mechanical golf. And I believe there might be a lesson in this for many golfers.

Just the other night, for instance, I was out on the magical links of the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, where the game has been played for some 400 years. The course sits between the small village and the North Sea; I can’t imagine a more tranquil and natural golf setting.

And so I put down six balls 15 yards from the second green. The green was sloping every which way but straight. There wasn’t a conventional shot in the book to play, or a conventional thought that would apply. But hey, I’m Canadian. I play on courses where the ball doesn’t bounce. You fly it to the hole, even on short shots. And there’s a technique for every shot, even the small one. Mechanical golf, as I said.

I looked at the situation I’d set for myself. The ground, which was full of ‘umps and bumps, rose smartly to the green. The pin was on about eight yards, and the green ran away from me. There was a slight crease in the green just aew feet left of the direct line. What to do?

First I took the mechanical way. I set my hands, put the clubface down so that if faced the sky, and tried to lob the ball on the green. Heck, I didn’t want to roll the ball up with too little speed and watch it come back to me. Nor did I want to belly it by mistake and watch it scurry across the green into a deep, small pot bunker on the other side.

The first shot was too high and didn’t reach the green. The second wasn’t bad, but flew over the pin, 25 feet behind. The third I bellied, and it zipped across the green faster than a Toronto driver can honk at somebody in front for not racing off the mark when the light turned green. That’s fast.

In other words, mechanical golf hadn’t worked. Now it was time for option two, where I would feel the shot. As I looked at the lie and the landscape, I figured I could roll the ball up just left of me, where the ground wasn’t quite as steep as in front of me, and then it could very well catch that aforementioned crease and slide down near the hole. Ah, of such stuff are golfing dreams made.

First shot: Up the slope, nearly right turn as the ball hit the crease, and within five feet of the hole. Lovely, I thought. That word really did occur to me. You hear it a lot here when the weather is fine, as it’s been this week.

Second shot: Even better, within three feet.

Third shot: Also about three feet.

Now, what happened here? For one thing, I think I felt the entire shot with my body. The result was that my so-called kinesthetic intelligence took over and overrode my so-called intellect. My brain was my body and not just that organ encased in my skull.

Second, I’d interacted with the landscape by allowing myself to feel it and respond to it. A process of engagement had occurred. It wasn’t a matter of hitting the ball over what could be construed as trouble but which was really only ground. It was a matter of using the ground — merging with it, if you don’t mind such a notion — and even losing myself in it.

Okay, I admit I’ve only been here a week. But already I think that imaginative golf has its place in the game. And surely there are situations, even at the courses you play in Canada, where you can feel the shot rather than think — or overthink it. I know there are. But I too forget that and turn into a mechanical golfer. And here I realize that’s no fun. No fun at all.

So fit the shot to what you see in front of you. Feel the shot in your body. Trust your instincts. It’s an enjoyable way to play.

Trust me on this one, even if I’m only learning now-with the help of inspiring Dornoch — to trust myself.