Faith - and the gumption to use it in your golf game

By Steve Habel, Special to Golfers’ GuideBy Steve Habel
Special to Golfers’ Guide

If golf has a Holy Grail or an ultimate lesson, game, life, art, not the outcome; it’s about the journey not the arrival.

Faith and that journey can be found in the small Texas town of Utopia, at least according to top sports psychologist Dr. David Cook’s book Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia.

Utopia, a real-life town of less than 400 folks about 80 miles from San Antonio, is the setting for the story of an aspiring unnamed golf pro and his inadvertent journey of discovery to golf’s big picture.

After having a meltdown in the midst of a big tournament, he strikes out for parts unknown and eventually takes a fork in the road to Utopia. There, in the town’s smoky diner, is posted a handwritten note about a driving range where you can “Find Your Game.”

A “goat ranch” golf course encircling an old cemetery (yes, both actually exist) sets the stage for Cook’s everyman story and its account of a chance meeting between the unnamed golf pro and an unorthodox mentor, Johnny, a small town rancher with uncommon insight.

Johnny’s unusual and memorable golf teachings incorporate lessons using fishing, painting and flying, and against this backdrop, Cook takes readers step by step through the critical mental aspects of the game, from a confidence-building, pre-shot checklist to lessons on instinct over intellect, truth over tradition, excellence over acceptance, and expecting the unexpected.

Golf’s Sacred Journey is as much a story of faith as it is a forum for Cook’s 30-plus years of hands-on experience coaching hundreds of PGA, NBA (he advised the two-time world champion San Antonio Spurs), MLB and NFL players as well as Olympians and collegiate champions.

Cook, who studied under noted mental golfing coach Bob Rotella at the University of Virginia, has been named by Golf Digest as one of the top ten mental-game coaches in the game.

“Golf is like a Texas two-step,” Johnny tells the young pro. “Until you feel the music, you ain’t nothin’ but a step counter.” Along with the pro, readers learn that feeling the music is about infusing a swing with rhythm, balance and patience. It’s about seeing past the interference to a shot we envision in our minds. It is about emotional control, conviction and not over thinking.

Cook’s, and by literal proxy, Johnny’s lessons boils down to just three tasks: see, feel and trust (SFT).

Seing, the rancher explains, means making the shot deliberate by envisioning what you want to happen – “calling the shot” in terms of shape, target and trajectory. Feeling is the internalizing of that shot – its rhythm, balance and patience. And trusting is what sports psychologists would call an absence of mechanical control, but what the rancher dubs “letting it happen.” Trust, according to Johnny, is a decision. But there’s more to “SFT” than meets the eye.

Golf’s Sacred Journey’s success has spawned a cottage industry of sorts for Cook. His three-day Utopia, Texas retreats and one-day “Golf’s Field of Dreams” seminars, modeled after the book’s story and lessons, are drawing scores of fans and transforming souls along with golf games.

I found myself comparing the notions taught in Golf’s Sacred Journey with those forwarded by famed teacher Harvey Penick in his Little Red Book and its three subsequent sequels. Keeping things simple and remembering that enjoyment from golf is derived from the playing of the game in its usually wonderful settings are the core values and things that bring golfers happiness.

With that comparison, and by helping golfers move closer to that “Zen” ideal rather than worrying about pars and birdies on the scorecard, Cook’s book succeeds immensely. It’s a quick read and well worth your time and attention.


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