Golf: Jack Nicklaus

These next three blogs on golf, are going to be about, who I consider the best three golfers of all time. They are going to be in alphabetical order, so just because I am leading off with Jack, does not mean I think he is the best. Doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s the best, either. Most people feel there is only a top 2, but I do feel there is a third golfer, who deserves to be in the conversation, when talking about the greatest golfer of all time. I am going to mention each golfer’s record, but I am going to emphasize more, of what made these three unique that made them so great. After these three I do not think anybody else is really close, but in future blogs I will discuss some of the other greats, who fall outside of the top 3. Nicklaus’s record in major championships is second to none. He won 2 U.S. amateur championships, and then won 18 professional majors. He also finished 2ond an amazing 19 times. It is not inconceivable to think, that a lip out here, or a bad bounce there, and he might have won 25 to 30 major championships. Despite all those 2ond place finishes, there is still not a major, that anyone thinks that Jack Nicklaus gave away. He simply got outplayed. The only time I ever heard any criticism of Jack’s play in a major, where he contended, was in the 1972 British Open. Lee Trevino beat him by one shot with a lucky chip in, for par at the par 5, 17th hole. Many in the press, said that Jack played too conservative in the first 3 rounds, and if he would have been more aggressive early, he would have won the third leg of the grand slam, that year. Jack won 73 tournaments on the PGA tour, which is third all time. But here is what set Jack Nicklaus apart from everybody else.

There were two things. First, he was the master of what I called the killer putt. This was a putt late in the final round of a tournament that just knocked the wind out of his opponents. One of his most famous, was the putt he made up the hill at the 16th hole in the final round of the 1975 Masters which enabled him to edge out Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, for the green jacket. Second, was the Nicklaus brain. I not taking about mental toughness, or the ability to stay calm and focused under pressure. I am talking about his golf swing brain. This is what Nicklaus had to say about his golf swing and what he is thinking when he is playing tournament golf.

“You know, every shot I play, I think of exactly what I want to do with the swing. I never just let it happen. Ever. Never. Even today, I can think of four or five things during a swing and do all of them. And I probably use to be able to do more. Most people say to think of one or maybe one and a half, but I’ve always been able to think of several things to do during the swing. And I do those things.”

This, in the day of having one swing thought, or no swing thoughts, here is one of the greatest players of all time, thinking about four or five things to do during the swing, and maybe even more, in his prime. One of Nicklaus’s most famous shots, was his one iron on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. In a very strong headwind, he hit a laser like one iron that hit the green, took one big hop, hit the pin and dropped right by the hole, for a kick in birdie, to seal his 3rd U.S. Open title. This is what he said about this shot and swing. “I remember I took it back a little inside and shut. I felt that happening but I couldn’t stop, so I adjusted the swing by holding on a little throughout it and hit the ball dead flush. My timing was terrific that week. I was able to adjust within the swing.” That is one great brain, obviously made for golf. In my view, that made Nicklaus totally unique, and one of the all time greats, in the game of golf.

Meditation: Pleasure, Part IV

Pleasure is something we all seem to want, or at least, it is something that you would think, you should want. But somehow, over the years, the word pleasure, or the seeking of pleasure, has taken on this negative viewpoint. The most obvious example of this feeling, is the articles you can read about guilty pleasures. These articles will list about 10 to 12 things, that you should feel guilty about, when pursuing these endeavors . These lists can range from bubble baths, to binge watching TV, and playing hooky from work. Then, there is Freud’s Pleasure Principle. This is the theory, that as babies, we want immediate gratification, and will do anything to get it. This will gradually subside when we get older, as REALITY sets in. The reality is, that sometimes we must wait, a proper amount of time, to receive our pleasurable experience. In some cases, there is this feeling of sophistication when it comes to pleasure. This is when art and museums, are the things that gives one pleasure. Pleasure is one of the few words that is directly associated with sex. That can creative negative thoughts for many. There is this atmosphere of distain, for people that are constantly seeking pleasure. Shouldn’t all of us be seeking pleasure. Maybe, it’s the reason we seek pleasure, that is creating the problem.

You should seek to make every experience a pleasurable one. Some people may say that is just about impossible, but I think it is something to strive for. However, the major reason I think people seek pleasure, is to avoid pain. It is this avoidance of pain, through the use of drugs and alcohol, that can lead to physical addiction. The other detrimental behaviors I wrote about in previous blogs, such as being on social media, the internet, your phone, and video games, may also be due to the avoidance of pain, or painful experiences. Pleasure is confused with avoidance or dulling of pain in everyday life. That good old alcohol buzz may feel pleasurable, but it is nothing more than a blocking device, for what is causing your discomfort. The same thing could be said for products, that claim to create pleasure. It is a tough road sometimes, just to find pleasures, in the simple things of life. This is simply finding pleasure, for the sake of pleasure. Some philosophies believe, that the only way to know you are alive, is to suffer. This may seem to be a little extreme, but it could be true. Trying to avoid pain and suffering, is a fruitless endeavor. It has been shown that avoiding loss, is a very high human priority. People seem to want to avoid losing money at all costs, rather than taking a moderate risk, to make money. Avoidance is giving pleasure a bad name.

You must embrace life for what it is. It is a series of ups and downs. Seeking pleasurable things to make you happy, is never a bad thing. There is so much of life, that can not be controlled. When something gives you joy, appreciate it, and be happy. Remember, there are no guilty pleasures in life, just the wrong reason for seeking them. Look for pleasure when things are going great. When something bad happens feel the pain, embrace it the best you can, and hope for a better tomorrow. Great losses in your life can be the hardest to overcome. Remember the ones we have lost would want us to move on and continue to get the most out of life we have. Pleasure is always worth seeking as it will improve the body and the mind. What pleasure can not do, is minimize or suppress the pain and suffering found in life.

Meditation: Pleasure, Part III

In the first two parts of discussing pleasure, I wrote about how pleasure seems to create problems in our lives, and the chemicals in the body, that seem to be the agents, in allowing us to feel pleasure. In this blog, I am going to look at ways health experts have tried to control these chemicals, in order to treat psychological problems, and improve our lives. They have tried to do this through medications, and a process that is termed dopamine fasting. Both are an ever evolving processes, which you could say is true of anything involving the brain. These techniques and medications, some of which have been used for years, have meant with various degrees of success. Unfortunately, there is a long way to go, before we are really going to know what is going on, in that thing between our ears.

Dopamine fasting is a relatively new technique, which came to fame, about 2018. Basically, it is abstaining from “addictive” technologies, like the cell phone, social media, the computer, and internet gaming. The proponents of dopamine fasting, say it can even help in overeating, and gambling. The term dopamine fasting is a misnomer. Even people who advocate this method, know it does not affect dopamine levels. They fessed up to this, when it was brought to their attention, that there is no good reason to reduce dopamine levels. It does too many things to help brain function, so reducing it, is not a good idea. What they are trying to do, is to avoid overstimulation of the brain. Dopamine fasting is nothing more than some behavior modification techniques. When you read articles about dopamine fasting, they make it sound so easy. If this was an easy thing to do, taking away all technical stimulation for a finite period of time, then why would we need dopamine fasting. You would just set aside a particular time not to be on the computer, your phone etc. All the things that dopamine fasting is suppose to help are not physically addicting. It is a an insult to people that are battling the physical addiction to alcohol and drugs, to use the word addiction for the aforementioned behaviors. It is not easy to stop some of these destructive behaviors, but your body is not going to go into a horrible withdrawal. Dopamine fasting is simply another way of saying find a quiet spot and breathe.

The medical profession has tried to help people, by trying to affect the chemicals of pleasure, with medication. The most common way they have done this, is with medications called antidepressants. Right now, there are at least 22 medications, described as antidepressants. There is no question, that these medications have saved thousands of lives, and have helped people make it through some really dark times. Even though the medical profession doesn’t like to hear this, there is a lot of trial and error, when it comes to prescribing these medications. That is why it is imperative to be acutely aware of how these drugs, or any combination of them, is making you feel. You are the blood work, the MRI, and contrast study, all rolled up into one. There are no good tests, that are able to discern, how effective these drugs are. Hopefully some day, there will be ways to tell just what these drugs are doing, and when they are doing it. In the final part of looking at pleasure, I will look at the feeling itself, and try to figure out why, it is perceived to be, at times such a problem.

Food: Cholesterol, Fat, and The Mediterranean Diet

This blog is going to discuss three aspects of nutrition, but not in the way you might think. There is a massive amount of information on all three subjects, on the wonderful internet. What is interesting, is how much conflicting information there is, especially about cholesterol. One thing is clear, despite all the negative aspects of having too much cholesterol, or too much fat in your diet, both have very specific, and necessary functions, to maintain proper health. Unless you are suffering from severe malnutrition, or have some odd genetic issue, it would be extremely rare, to have not enough cholesterol and fat in your system. However, there does seem to be this obsession with fat free foods, so it could be possible, that if someone went to extreme levels, with some of these fat free foods, that they could wind up with some kind of fat deficiency. Let’s look at what cholesterol and fat are supposed to do.

Cholesterol is necessary to make hormones, helps the body make Vitamin D from sunlight, aids in digestion, boosts the immune system, helps maintain cell wall flexibility, and improves brain function. Boosting brain function is one of the most important things it does. Over 25% of the bodies Cholesterol is found in the brain. There are two types of cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). Lipoproteins are the particles that transport cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood stream. Triglycerides are the main constituents of natural fats and oils. The LDL is often call the bad cholesterol. However, this is the cholesterol, that travels to all the areas of the body, and allows cholesterol to perform it’s functions. What makes it bad, is that if you have an excess of LDL, then if will have a tendency to attach to the inside of blood vessels, which causes the blockages, that lead to heart attacks and strokes. The HDL is called the good cholesterol. This cholesterol transports the LDL back to the liver, where it is eliminated from the body. HDL can help break down that sludge, that forms on the arteries. HDL does nothing to help cholesterol do its job. Fat is an essential part of your diet. It provides energy, helps absorbs certain nutrients, and maintains your core body temperature. It also combines with cholesterol to do many of the same functions, that cholesterol does. Again there is good fat and bad fat. The bad fat is call trans fat and saturated fat. Trans fat is the worst fat, and is found in a lot of processed foods, and red meat. When you consume trans fat, you increase the bad cholesterol, and decrease the good cholesterol, the dreaded double whammy. The good fat is polyunsaturated fat, and is found in fatty fish, and various oils. It is the good fat, because it contains the omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, which are necessary for brain health and cell growth.

This brings us to the Mediterranean diet, which is the diet of choice to try and control your cholesterol, and take in the healthy fat. It is a very flexible diet, but it does want you to limit your intake of red meat and pork, to no more than once a week, for either. What the diet wants you to consume, is lots of fruits and vegetables, fish and poultry, some grains and nuts. Stay away from the processed foods, and you are well on your way. The Mediterranean Diet is big on the use of Olive Oil. Olive Oil falls under the heading of monounsaturated fatty acids. Nuts contain this kind of fatty acid. This fatty acid is considered a healthy fat, which lowers the bad cholesterol and raises the good cholesterol. Try to explore the Mediterranean diet, and make it become as much a part of your lifestyle as you can. The biggest thing is to avoid processed foods at all costs, because they are going to be loaded with trans fats. Here, is what I consider are the worst. Breakfast cereal, potato chips and chips of any kind, processed meats, such as bacon, lunch meats and hot dogs, microwave popcorn, and fruits in syrup, are to be totally avoided. Things that are frozen or dried, are not quite as bad, and can be eaten once in awhile.

When the subject of cholesterol and fat are explored on the internet, the opinions are as varied, as eat all the high fat and cholesterol foods you want, or do not eat anything, that you would consider high in either. Obviously some middle ground is needed, and the above should get you started. The bottom line on all this, is to start to make and eat real food. It is not that hard to do. There are great granola recipes, made from rolled oats, if you have to get a cereal fix. There is a great variety of foods out there, that are easy to make, and will lead to a healthier body.

Golf: Intention

When you look at the title of this blog, you may think, that intention should be under meditation. If you google intention, you will find many sites related to life goals, and ways to make powerful intentions. Intention may be the one tool, that we are leaving out of our golf games. I was going to hold off on this blog for awhile, because I think intention is the thing that as sparked my own golf game, but I wanted to get more rounds under my belt, before I wrote about it. I have played 13 rounds using intention as my main thought process. What prompted me to write about this now, was watching the Phoenix Open. I do not think I have seen so many top players struggle so much, during a final round. The leaders were putting balls in the water, in the cacti, in sand traps, and missing more putts than I could count. When Brooks Koepka pitched in for an eagle on the 17th hole, I clapped, and said out loud, somebody finally did something. It was the winning shot of the tournament. After watching so much failure, from the best players in the world, it made me think that maybe everybody is missing intention in their golf game.

Intention can be defined in different ways. Intention can be something that you want, and plan to do. Intentions can be how you want to feel, or simply what you’d like to get out of the day. There are websites dedicated to how to go about setting intentions, to make your life powerful and strong. This is a breakdown of what most of them say. Set an intention and let it go. Set these intentions when you are feeling content and not when you feel you are lacking something. Detach yourself from the outcome. Allow the universe to handle the outcome. Try keeping the mind quiet. Keep things on the short term. Keep things positive and make sure that your intentions are always evolving. Try to stay in the present moment. You can see how all of this can be applied to golf. One of my favorites is keeping things on the short term. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Another one I like, is to keep your intentions evolving, because that is what the round is going to do, evolve. Before we move forward, we need to differentiate between intent and visualization, since visualization is so much a part of golf. There is some debate on this subject, but I do believe there is a distinct difference. Intent is a determination to do something. Visualization is related to mental imagery. You can visualize golf shots, but you must apply intention, as the final step. I will say, visualization is not as big a part of my game, since I have applied intention. We have all been there when our golf games have abandoned us. Here are some examples of things that have affected my own game. Hitting the poor tee shot into trouble. This may happen about 5 to 7 holes into the round. It does not really matter how I am scoring. I have hit 4 or 5 drivers in the round, and they have all been very good to excellent drives. The holes, however, have been fairly easy driving holes and now the 8th hole has some trouble on it. I do not care where the trouble is, left or right or on both sides, just a narrow driving hole. I have hit good drives up to this point, but sure enough my drive on this hole finds the woods, water, or worse the out of bounds. Another good example, I am hitting the driver well all day, even on the tight holes, but my irons into the green are atrocious. Then, there is the day that on the par 3’s I am hitting great iron shots, but I am driving so bad, that you never get to take advantage of your good iron play. Finally, there is putting. Of course putting would be involved, when you are thinking about missed opportunities, or bad shots. I may start out a round not playing all that great, but my putting is holding the round together, because I am making some nice par saves by sinking a handful of 6 to 10 footers, or longer. Then like many times in golf, I hit a good shot out of the blue, to about 10 feet, for a birdie, and of course, I miss the putt. This is where I believe intention can help reduce and eventually eliminate these bad shots.

How do you apply intention to your golf game? When those bad shots happened in the past, I would look at various things to help correct the problem. I would look at my swing. In fact there is one train of thought that your driver swing and iron swing are two different swings. I got away from that process, and also got away from swing thoughts on the golf course. But that does not mean I do not think about anything. On driving, the old thought process would be to try and visualize the shot and try to avoid trouble when the situation called for it. When it came to iron shots, the first thing I would have to do is to figure out what club to hit. In that process you weigh things like the wind, and where the trouble is around the green, and whether I would hit a draw or fade. This thinking would sometimes lead to a lot of indecision. On short shots you would try to visualized the shot, and you would do the same thing on putting. When you begin to put intention into your game you wind up making the game much simpler. It comes as close to trying to play with a blank mind as you can get. Now, when I have a driver in my hand, I go through my routine, but now I think simply of where I want the ball to go, which is the middle of the fairway, no matter what the hole is like. With irons I still have to go through the process of picking a club, but once the club is chosen, I simply think of where I want the ball on the green. With the short game and putting I think of where I want the ball to end up, in the hole. One little adjustment I make, which I think is critical, is that before I execute the shot, I look at the spot where I think I will pick up the ball, when I look up. On full shots I look at spot in the sky, and at about the height, I think the ball will be. On short shots, I look where I think the ball will be when I look up. I do the same think on putts. Since I have been doing this, I work the ball less consciously, but I work it more intuitively. I am aware of, but pretty much ignore trouble. Since I have been letting intention be my main focus during a round, my scores have been, between 72 and 84 with 9 out of 13 rounds being in the 70’s. One of the biggest improvements of my game has been the rhythm of my swing. I can’t say it never gets out of whack anymore, but it does not happen very often. Intention is something that is simple, but can be hard to put into practice, with the usual things going on when playing golf. Only time will tell if this will be a permanent, and beneficial way for me to play golf. It may take a lot of time, since we are in a winter wonderland right now, in Western Pa., with no end in sight.

Golf: Grip Pressure

How firmly or lightly do you hold the golf club when you swing? Grip pressure is such a subjective thing, that it can be very difficult to describe. One of the basic themes when discussing grip pressure is that most people hold the club too tight, in a so called death grip. Most instruction is geared to having a lighter grip on the club. Before we get to the ways that grip pressure has been described, I want to define two words, tight and firm. Tight is defined as fixed, fastened, or closed firmly; hard to move, undo, or open. Firm, when applied to gripping something, is defined, as having steady but not excessive power or strength. Now let’s look at the way grip pressure has been described in golf instruction over the years. This will not be a complete list by any means, but you will see some of the imaginative ways grip pressure has been described.

Probably the most common instruction has been to grip firmly with the middle two fingers of the right hand and the last three fingers of the left hand. In contrast the thumb and forefinger should have light pressure on the club. You can find this instruction in many golf books including Arnold Palmer’s My Game and Yours, and Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons.

Another idea when it came to grip pressure was that the left hand should grip the club more firmly than the right hand. Tommy Armour described the pressure of the left hand as about the same as the pressure you would apply when opening a door knob.. Bobby Jones in his instructional writings, advocates a much firmer grip with the left hand, when compared with the right. He also emphasizes those last three fingers of the left hand.

Ernest Jones, the swing the clubhead instructor, freely used the words tight and firm when talking about the grip. He felt the average golfer gripped the club too tight but advocated a firm grip. All three instructors talked about firm left hands, but not so firm, as to feel that the forearms are tightening up. They all three felt the right hand should grip the club lightly or with a lot less pressure than the left.

Leave it to Sam Snead to come up with a unique description of grip pressure. He felt you should hold the club like you were holding a bird and trying to keep it from flying away. What some people forget is that Sam probably had the most powerful hands in golf. I am sure it felt exactly like this to him.

Tiger Woods makes an interesting point in his book, How I Play Golf, concerning grip pressure. He feels that the reason many people grip the club too tight, is because their grip is faulty, and therefore it is difficult for them to maintain control of the club, unless they grip the club very tightly. Tiger likes to feel that his hands fit snugly on the club.

Even though most experts agree, that the average or beginning golfer grips the club too tightly, they still believe that you must have at least a firm grip on the club, especially with the left hand. Even though they do use the word firm in their instruction, I think this fear of gripping too tightly, has led many of us to grip the club without the necessary firmness. I think this may be even more true of the short game and putting. All that is ever talked about, is how light the grip pressure should be in putting. It is often said, that right before you putt, somebody should be able to come up, and take the putter right out of your hands, if you have the right grip pressure. As with so many other things in this game, I do not think there is enough experimentation going on, when it comes to grip pressure. I do not think that anyone, who is shooting in the 80’s, is holding the club too tight, for any phase of their game. However, they may be holding the club too loosely. Many advocates of light grip pressure, say, that as you start to swing the club, that you will instinctively increase your grip pressure. This goes against what some instructors say, that grip pressure should be constant, throughout the swing. You can not do that, if you are starting with light pressure, at address. Even though grip pressure may be difficult to describe, it has to be one of easiest things in one’s golf game to fool around with. Try different pressures for all phases of your game. You will never know what you might find, like consistency and fun.

Meditation: Pleasure, Part II

In order to understand pleasure, we have to look at the logistics of how the mind and the body experiences pleasure. Pleasure is created by neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that are released at the end of a nerve fiber by the arrival of a nerve impulse and, by diffusing across the synapse or junction, causes the transfer of the impulse to another nerve fiber, a muscle fiber, or some other structure. The exact number of neurotransmitters is unknown but more than 200 have been identified. Neurotransmitters are different types of protein substances that are manufactured by the body from the foods we eat. Most of the western diets are high in protein, so the body does not have much trouble in making neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter that has been related to pleasure is dopamine. Dopamine  has a number of important functions in the brain; this includes regulation of motor behavior, pleasures related to motivation and also emotional arousal. It plays a critical role in the reward system.

Dopamine is made from the amino acid L-Dopa, which can be synthesized indirectly from the essential amino acid phenylalanine or directly from the non-essential amino acid tyrosine. These amino acids  are found in nearly every protein and so are readily available in food, with tyrosine being the most common. Although dopamine is also found in many types of food, it is incapable of crossing the blood-brain barrier that surrounds and protects the brain. It must therefore be synthesized inside the brain to perform its neuronal activity. That is not a problem because both L-dopa and tyrosine can cross the barrier and therefore Dopamine is made by the brain, for the brain. Dopamine can cause health problems if an individual has too little or too much in their system. The most common disease linked to a Dopamine deficiency is Parkinson’s Disease. You can measure Dopamine in the blood. Since Dopamine can not cross the blood brain barrier, this is not going to tell you how much Dopamine is in the brain. Until recently there was no way of knowing how much Dopamine was in the brain. Now MIT has developed MRI sensors, that consist of magnetic proteins that can bind to dopamine. When this binding takes place, researchers can continuously monitor dopamine levels in a specific part of the brain. One of the key discoveries was that dopamine did not make neurons more active, but made neurons active for longer periods of time. Unless your are going to be hooked up to the these sensors, no one is really going to know what is happening in the dopamine brain system.

There are other feel good substances in the body. Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin often referred to as the happy hormones, even though only one is a hormone. They are all connected with each other when it comes to pleasure. Endorphins are stored and produced in the pituitary gland. They can inhibit pain mechanisms. You create endorphins when you do something related to exercise that you really like to do. All of these chemicals are involved in the feelings of pleasure and reward and how to get both. When any of these chemicals get out of whack not matter what the reason, we begin to have problems. This can make pleasure seem so confounding at times. Sometimes, it is what we do to bring all this in balance, that can at times make everything worse.