Honest Abe

By admin December 30, 2014 00:42

Written by Ried Holien

Honest, Abe
a.k.a.Creating Creative Visualizations In the Never-Ending Battle in Preparation to Hit the Best Golf Shot You Can Hit

I struggled hitting my driver throughout 2007. It began when my backswing overextended past parallel (been watching John Daly too long) and grew worse when the clubhead started traveling out to in, but real serious trouble resulted only after these mechanical mistakes became mental issues. Standing over tee shots, I doubted I could hit any fairway let alone the one I aimed at. This, of course, became an amazingly consistent self-fulfilling prophecy. …

My brother, who is my regular playing partner, offered suggestions but nothing helped. Then, unexpectedly, playing in a money match, I slammed a drive straight and true. My amazed brother asked: “What was your swing thought there?” My answer silenced him with surprise. I replied: “I was thinking of Abraham Lincoln.”

My brother understood, as readers of this column will as well, that my mind works with whatever whimsical image happens to creep into it during the golf swing. When asked what the best swing thought ever was, Bobby Jones answered: “The last one that worked.” I believe wholeheartedly in that philosophy.

In past issues, I’ve written about lowering golf scores by singing Elvis songs or by fantasizing about Audrey Hepburn. Even with that schizophrenic resume, however, Abraham Lincoln seemed a stretch. He has nothing to do with golf, doesn’t sing like the King, and doesn’t look near as good in a dress as does Hepburn.

Yet my game improved by picturing Honest Abe. I imagined him swinging a modern titanium driver dressed in a black suit wearing his ubiquitous stovepipe hat. History books call Lincoln “the rail-splitter” because, as a young man, he cleaved wooden beams for use on fences and the railroad. Developing strong muscles from such backbreaking work, he could probably hit long drives.
I laughed while talking like Bill Murray did about the Dalai Lama in Caddyshack: “Abe wanted to let the Big Dog eat, so he took a mighty swath and he nailed it straight and true. Big hitter the Great Emancipator…real big hitter. He can split rails, but he can also split fairways right down the middle.”

Abraham Lincoln—The Golfer
The 17th President invaded my golfing brain from two books I had recently read. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin provided a fascinating insight into how Lincoln took political adversaries and formed them into a remarkably effective presidential cabinet. The second, Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills, described how he gave our nation a second birth of freedom through his Gettysburg Address.

Realizing I was just following my long history of crazy swing thoughts, and hoping this one could help me play better, my brother shared in the fun. Together we invented characteristics Lincoln may have had if he’d been a golfer.

• From his height and rail-splitting muscles, he’d possess a powerful swing, albeit inconsistent. He was neither a gifted athlete nor especially coordinated.
• As a boy, Abe finished math homework by writing with charcoal on the back of a shovel. He’d do the same with his golf scorecard.
• He’d talk funny. Golf partner: “Hey, Abe, what’d you shoot today?” Lincoln: “Well, I shot a four score and seven.”
• Given his nickname of “Honest Abe,” he’d play to a truthful handicap index and call penalties on himself.
• He’d be a good golf partner because, although considered very serious, Lincoln had a great sense of humor. He told long, entertaining stories and off-color jokes. Also, since he didn’t drink alcohol and had an amazing intellect, he’d stay clear and focused down the stretch of a tight match.
• As detailed in Team of Rivals, Lincoln led a group of political opponents who hated one another (and him) and got them to overcome their own rivalries to work toward the singular goal of preserving the union. So, he’d probably make a great Ryder Cup captain. Maybe he could whip Tiger and Phil into being good teammates. (Okay, probably not.)

Presidential Golf
From Lincoln, our conversation expanded to include humorous speculations about other Presidents.

• George Washington would also be scrupulously honest: “I cannot tell a lie. I moved my ball out from underneath that cherry tree.”
• Thomas Jefferson would invest heavily in golf developments, buying large tracts of real estate and then sending Merewether Lewis and Pete Dye out on a mission to explore the land and plot out golf holes.
• William Henry Harrison would play in really bad weather, become sick then die early in the round.
• Teddy Roosevelt would carry a shotgun along in his golf bag to kill any wild game that happened to wander onto the fairway.
• Calvin Coolidge would say absolutely nothing during an entire 4-hour round.
• JFK would hit on all the drink cart ladies.
• Richard Nixon would vehemently state: “I am not a sandbagger.”
• There would be an incredible shortage of golf balls under Jimmy Carter, and people would wait in line for hours just to get a Titleist with which to tee off.
• Like JFK, Bill Clinton would also hit on the drink cart ladies, but he’d lie about doing it, which would then get him kicked out of his country club. He’d return 8 years later, however, to watch as his wife tried to take the club over.
• George W. Bush would lose the club championship on actual score but would still take home the trophy because his opponent misunderstood the newfangled punch scorecard featuring hanging chads caused a better score to be recorded than Bush actually shot.

These jokes lightened our moods. Because it was so far from being serious we were able put such frivolity behind us and focus when it was time to swing. My scores lowered. My brother and I went on a tear and won our match 4&3.
Basking in glory for the final three holes, my mind analyzed what just happened. In short order my golfing mind had turned from frustrated to formidable. The levity helped, but it was more than that. The lighthearted conversation matched my personality. I am part goofball so I cannot take anything too seriously, but I’m also partly serious and I must earnestly focus in order to golf well. I desperately want to play well, but getting uptight just ruins my score.
I need balance to golf my best. While my golf swing is serious to me, my golf game is not. I need light with my shades, yin with my yang, peanut butter with my jelly.
This Lincoln conversation matched me perfectly. It kept my outlook carefree between shots, but didn’t distract me when it came time to swing. I accepted my weaknesses and depended instead on my strengths. I relished getting up and down, saving pars. I’ve been wild off the tee for most of my golfing life, but I made up for it around the greens. Picturing Abraham Lincoln reminded me of who I was.
This came as no great surprise because it mirrored advice I’ve read in Dr. Bob Rotella’s Golf is not a Game of Perfect. He writes: “People by and large become what they think about themselves.” When I thought of myself as a capable golfer despite my driving woes, I played more like a capable golfer.

It resembles something Lincoln himself said, that, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Both quotes highlight that while we cannot control what happens, we can control how events affect us. It’s simple, but true. Like the old saying goes: if life gives you lemons, make lemonade then mix it with vodka and have yourself a party.

Arnold Palmer’s Powerful Spirit
Choosing how to think on the course becomes just a smaller version of how we choose to think of ourselves in general. Arnold Palmer believed that winning golf came just as much from the soul as from the swing. When asked how he could focus so well during the pressure of a major, the King answered: “The secret of concentration is the secret of self-discovery. You reach inside yourself to discover your personal resources, and what it takes to match them to the challenge.”

If, deep down, you do not believe you possess the “personal resources” to rise to the challenge, then you will likely fail. That doubt will manifest itself in bad swings, poor decisions and an unproductive attitude. Looking outside the realm of golf, the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams won more NCAA Championships than anybody, repeatedly preached to all his players that: “Winners and losers are both self-determined, but only winners are willing to admit that.”

Keep in mind, however, that winners are not determined by score. Wooden said, and all professional golfers will back him up, that you can be a winner and still not win. Fuzzy Zoeller broke the tournament record at the 1994 Players’ Championship with a 72-hole score of 268…but he didn’t win because Greg Norman blasted four PGA scoring records on his way to a 24-under 264. Other pros knew Zoeller deserved to walk with his head high after that performance. He was a winner; he just didn’t take home the trophy.
The bottom line is that if you think well of yourself, you’ll be winner in all phases of life, and quite often see results that bear that out as well.
As proof, just consider Abraham Lincoln. He never stopped believing in himself even though life dealt him plenty of misfortune. Consider this assessment from an anonymous 19th Century historian. The author says from time to time, life as a leader can look hopeless. To help you understand, consider a man who lived through this the following: Failed in business. Defeated for the legislature. Again failed in business. Sweetheart died. Had a nervous breakdown. Defeated in election. Defeated for Congress. Defeated for Congress again. Defeated for Congress again! Defeated for Senate. Defeated for Vice President. Defeated for Senate again. Elected President of the United States. Earned the respect of his country and millions of world citizens past, present and future. This man was Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln never gave up. He never stopped believing in himself. He believed he could offer something to his country that nobody else could and history proved him right.
Granted, very few people are Lincolns, but he does provide a good example to strive for in life, and on the course.

Ried Holien, winner of the National Award of Excellence in the golf essayist category, is GolfNews Magazine’s senior feature writer.

By admin December 30, 2014 00:42