This is part 3 of "Golf Reactions: Keep Your Eye On the Ball?".
The invisible ball reminds me of a story: A threesome had just driven off the first tee when a stranger to the players asked if he might join in. "Why certainly, with pleasure," they said.
The stranger stuck his wooden tee in the turf, made a beautiful swing at an imaginary ball on it, and went half-way down the fairway and "played" his second similarly with an iron.
His second "pitched" on the green, and he carefully went through the motions of taking one putt for a three!
Not unnaturally, his fellow-players asked him what was the idea of dispensing with the ball. He explained it simply enough. With a ball, he said, he never got around in less than 110, but without it lie could rely upon being somewhere in the low 70's.
The next day he brought a friend along, and the threesome followed as a gallery. On the first green an argument arose, and the gallery came up to find out what was causing the trouble.
Their companion of the previous day smiled at them and explained. "You see," he said, "I have laid him a stymie and he does not know the rules."
A charming story, don't you think?
If you think this too fanciful (though the tale is true), it was recalled to my mind by a very practical job which I have recently undertaken - the re-education of a golfer who had not played except in his imagination for fifteen years.
He was married at about that time and one of his marriage vows was not to play golf at weekends.
He had little other time to play, so when now and again he was able to get away in the week he would lunch at the club and then play nine holes with an imaginary ball.
Something happened to the union, and he is now playing again. And I assure you that, with two or three lessons after his fifteen-year break, he was as good as ever he had been, and now, after a dozen or so, he is quite a few strokes better than he was when he renounced playing.
But we must come back (again!) to the ordinary golfer who finds that the ball has a devastating effect on his swing. Why is this so?
It is so because the ordinary golfer is an unrepentant end-gainer.
When he sees the ball, he becomes obsessed with the idea of hitting it; the ball is made the climax or the end of his activity. That is to say, the highest speed attained by his club head is at the moment of impact, or, much worse still, he may try to stop the club head as soon as it has struck the ball.
That is the effect of seeing the ball as something to be hit.
Now we know that for maximum effectiveness the highest speed attained by our club head (the dynamic center of our swing) must be some way past the ball; at least two feet past.
So in one sense you must simply ignore the point in your swing where the ball sits on the tee.
You must swing past it exactly as if it were not there.
You must not get your eye frozen onto the ball, nor must you get your mind concerned with the problem of how far, how high, and how straight you are going to hit it.
The point I am making is that it is possible for us to be too conscious of the ball, for the ball to have too much of our attention.
I suggested this to a pupil one day, and he retorted that in that case I should not give him a shining white ball to play with - a green or pink one would be less insistent. As a matter of fact he had some balls painted various colors and experimented with them with quite interesting results.
But I hadto point out that he was on the wrong track anyway.
We use a white ball exactly because it is the easiest to see - and it is the degree of attention that is necessary to enable us to keep the eye on the ball that is the critical point.
Let me put it this way:
- You must not make an undue effort to keep your eye
on the ball, but
- You must just keep your eye on the ball.
Here you see my difficulty again: the difficulty of finding a phrase that will accurately express a subtle shade of feeling. And however I express it, every reader will read and visualize it differently.
I remember one lady who came to me with her swing terribly constricted and tied up by looking too intently at the ball. She had no great physique, but she had patience and an analytical mind, and we soon had her sweeping the ball away in good style.
Knowing her to be an intelligent woman capable of expressing herself, and an interesting amateur painter, I asked her if she could explain the difference in her attitude to the ball since we had "united" her swing - and whether she saw it differently now.
Her reply was worth pondering over:
"I cannot explain why," she said, "but now I never think of the ball. I am busy trying to feel how I should swing the golf club. Really I do not think I can tell you if I actually see the ball at all now . . . yes I do, but not in the old way. It used to look like craters in the moon, now it looks like a star in the Milky Way."
Seeing my look of surprise she explained, "It used to be a huge, frightening, gray object, pitted with cavities; now it is a little star somewhere in the path of my wide sweeping golf swing."
Now that lady had found the joy of golf through getting an altered conception of the ball.
The joy of golf is to feel the ball snugly gathered up and thrown off the face of the club.
In a sense no one can teach you that, you must find it for yourself - but some of us can certainly help you to find it, by giving you an understanding of what you are seeking.