Coming back to my chat with Singh: it took no time for him to discern that something was off. “If you take golf home with you partner, then that’s very unhealthy.
I haven’t been playing much golf over the past couple of months. Not sure how that happened: a combination of too much work, too much travel, and too little time. Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. The truth, however, is that I’m going through a patch of golf depression. And I feel no trepidation admitting that, since all of us who play the game are equally prone to the vicissitudes of the same affliction.
The last few rounds that I played weren’t all bad: a good shot here and there; the odd birdie; but on the whole, I felt like I wasn’t in control of my game. Post-round postmortems became exercises in regret and frustration, which, as it tends to happen with golfers, started affecting my demeanour off the course. So, just to get out of that counterproductive funk, I started avoiding my weekend game and coming up with a host of excuses for why I couldn’t ‘get time to play.’ Although it’s unlikely to happen to a consummate golfer like me, I suspect that this state-of-mind is precisely why so many weekend golfers end up quitting the game.
This week though, help came from unexpected quarters. I got a telephone call from Digvijay Singh, the Gurugram-based pro, who I’ve known for many years now. Singh, who practices at a club in the NCR suburb that I used to frequent, had called to enquire about my extended hiatus.
A digression about pro golfers would be appropriate here: if you think that, just by dint of the quality of their game, golf isn’t hard for the pros, then you couldn’t be further from the truth. Professional golfers have an exponentially harder relationship with golf—these guys get their teeth knocked in so bad, and so often, that it’s a wonder they can keep at it. But that’s precisely what they learn to do: pick themselves up and carry on.
Coming back to my chat with Singh: it took no time for him to discern that something was off. “If you take golf home with you partner, then that’s very unhealthy. You’ve got to leave it at the course,” he said quietly before insisting I come down to meet him, emphasising, that it had nothing to do with golf. The next morning, a glorious, sunny, retreating-winter day, I drove out of town to a small place called Narnaul in Rajasthan, a couple of hours’ drive from Gurugram. The location Singh had sent led to an obscure airfield, empty, save a few small Cessna aircraft parked on the strip. It turns out Singh prefers to spend his weekends skydiving rather than playing golf these days. It struck him, he told me, that I would find a way out of my golf predicament if I jumped out of a plane, strapped to a skydiver at 10,000 feet. Now golfers will go to any lengths to improve, but this seemed a bit far out.
“Let me explain this,” he said, sensing my bewilderment. “I started skydiving regularly in 2009, and I credit it for helping me win on the Asian Tour soon after. I started playing without fear and that’s what skydiving does to you. When you jump you can’t control your surroundings. All you can control is what you’re doing. And that has a profound effect on the way you approach the game.“
Now I’m what you could call a golf theory guru. Twelve years of reading and writing about the game, especially instruction, have decimated any natural instincts I might have to swing a golf club. To cut a long story short, when you’ve been doing this for that long, then you get to a point where you revert back to basic, sensory cues rather than complicated theory. You also realise, just how much your own mind, can sabotage your game. To put it succinctly, Singh’s theory sounded bang on: as good a piece of golf advice as I’ve ever heard.
And so it was that instead of teeing it up, I went skydiving. Not solo obviously, but tethered to an instructor who’s done it thousands of times. It’s hard to articulate what jumping out of a plane feels like. It’s one of those things you have to experience to truly comprehend. And while it’s perfectly safe as statistics go, just the fact that you’re hurtling down to the ground at 200 kilometres per hour, with nothing more than a parachute strapped to your back, affects you in ways that I haven’t completely understood yet. What I can say for certain is that once you’ve done your prep, it feels weirdly liberating to relinquish control. The pessimist in me also got a new perspective on ‘what’s the worst that can happen’.
Like most golfers, I think I’m guilty of taking the game way too seriously, thereby allowing it to affect my life in a way it shouldn’t. Those 30 seconds of freefall are going to be my Happy Gilmore ‘happy place’—a place I’m going to re-visit every time I beat myself up over a missed putt or a double bogey.
Golf isn’t really that big a deal I suppose, but I’d be lying if I said I feel like that. I have a feeling that when I truly do mean that, is when I might start playing well again. Thanks for the class, Diggy; I think that was, by far, the most radical coaching session I’ve ever had. But then, golf is an extreme sport.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game