“The only way of really finding out a man’s true character is to play golf with him,” P.G. Woodhouse once famously noted.
What do we find out about ourselves when we play? What I’ve discovered since the return to the fairways is I suffer from “downswing blackout.”
I was a pretty decent footballer in my day (soccer player for those on the other side of the pond). As a midfielder, I often found myself in opposing penalty areas.
My performances in both penalty areas was a contrast in patience and anxiety. I was calm, cool and collected in my own penalty area. Once I got into the opposing penalty area I became anxious. The only thing I wanted to do was put my laces through the ball and score. I just didn’t have the same presence of mind. A fog seemed to develop in my mind. I lost all sense of where I was and what I was trying to do, and went blindly at the ball.
What does my football/soccer experience have to do with my performance on the golf course? That sense of downswing blackout mirrors the same fog I experienced as a footballer in the opposing team’s penalty area.
Downswing blackout describes what I usually feel after I’ve gone beyond the halfway point of my backswing. I get lost in a fog. I lose all sense of concentration, of presence of mind. I can’t wait to get at the ball. I’m so anxious I lose focus of the golf ball and hit awful golf shots.
I’ve tried everything to rid myself of this excruciating state, but can’t.
And yet there are times when I stand over the ball and just know I’m going to rip it. Victoria Hills Golf Course in Orlando, Florida about 10 years ago is arguably my greatest golf experience. That’s probably not something a lot of people say. It’s the only time in my life I’ve stood on every hole that required a driver and knew I was going to hit it flush down the middle. I split every fairway that day, hitting long and straight drives. I’ve never had another day like it.
I’ve had a few perfect experiences over the last two days on the Dukes Course at Woburn. On Monday, I stood with a 3-iron in my hand on the par-5 14th hole and knew I was going to flush it. I did. It felt effortless. Yesterday I stood over my tee shot to the par-3 third hole and knew I was going to hit a perfect 9-iron to that back flag. I did. The ball landed 15 feet from the flag.
On the next hole, I thinned a 78-yard wedge shot through the back of the green. I bladed the ball so badly it would've had a smile on it if it had been an old balata ball.
Things got worse on the next tee, the par-5 fifth hole. I hit the biggest wide possible. It was so far off the fairway, the golf course, the planet, I didn’t bother to look for it.
Downswing blackout was at fault on both swings. The fog descended half through the backswing. I lost all concentration, focus and paid the ultimate price.
Why? It’s a serious question.
I haven’t really done much personal in this blog until now, but downswing blackout is doing my head in. It takes about one second to hit a golf ball. Why can’t I stay focused in that time to make a decent swing and hit the ball with full concentration?
I’m not alone. A friend calls it the “red mist.” That’s usually what settles over me as I watch the ball sail into the trees. I’ve watched an Irish friend talk to himself as he stood over the ball to try to rid the demons from his mind.
I love this game. The camaraderie, banter, the solitude of the outdoors in green and pleasant spaces, the exercise, etc. but I want to play at least half decently. Don’t we all? I sometimes think I’d be better off just going for a walk. As Tommy bolt once said:
“The biggest liar in the world is the golfer who claims that he plays the game merely for exercise.”
Downswing blackout is responsible for my increasing handicap. It might also one day drive out of this bloody game!