An Excerpt from Golf Between the Ears

Golf is a game of inches…..the toughest four are between the ears. —Arnold Palmer

The Rangers’ number one man teed up his ball and took a practice swing. The gallery, thankful for a bit of sun after the morning chill, quieted, almost holding its breath. Hundreds of Iowa golfers had been reading their local sports page about the guru kids’ daily meditation program and wondered if this undersized yogi could knock the puffed-up reigning champ off his throne. The odds were ugly. Erik Joven, the fifteen year-old, redhead, fly-weight, skinny vegetarian meditating invader to corn country was attempting the impossible. Taking down Mark Phipps, the burly State Champ.

Every hog farmer in Iowa backed their favorite son to kick Erik’s scrawny ass. They had no use for the newcomers wearing Birkenstock sandals and driving expensive foreign cars invading their uncomplicated world of grain production. Erik paused a moment, then another, and another.

Spring in Iowa was unpredictable and the fairways smelled lush after the frozen earth finally melted. The members of his parents’ spiritual community had founded an alternative high school in Fairhaven, Iowa and they rooted for Erik differently. With their sandals and cotton yoga pants wet from the morning dew on the fairways, they closed their eyes and calmed their thoughts. Their united, focused visualization of Erik’s victory would rally him.

Minutes passed as he calmly felt the pulse in his wrist. Mark Phipps, brawny, fierce and jacked on coffee, pulled a tin of chewing tobacco from the hip pocket of his blue jeans. He was itching to step up, slam a big hit down the narrow, tree-lined fairway, and bury this new kid on the scene. Erik stood facing the fairway with his eyes closed—waiting for his pulse to tell him it was time. He stood there with all the time in the world.

Erik’s coach from Lotus High, Ed Hipp, had a lot riding on the boy’s next tee shot. The damp fairways had partly dried by the sun, spotty behind the cumulus cotton ball clouds, and the following wind could only boost the kid’s chances. But the hostility from the beefy champ’s side of the gallery wasn’t helping Erik’s nerves. Ed had poured his everything into coaching this kid—all in the name of proving that he had the stuff to keep his wife from leaving him with their four kids. If Erik could pull this off, take home the title, well—that could save the wreck of Ed’s life.

The farmers backing Phipps had no use for most of the nutty techniques introduced to golf in the name of steadying a player’s nerves. But Erik wasn’t groping to save his bid. He was following a tradition established some five thousand years ago by yogis in the Himalayan Mountains. Everyone at Lotus High, a private school in a small town in Iowa, had studied Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis to help them discover when their body-mind relationship was out of balance.

Now, on a Friday afternoon in May, the ancient Vedic science of determining the subtle equilibrium and stability of a person’s energy found its way to competitive golf for the first time in Iowa City. The same course had hosted a PGA tournament years before, but today a new way of golf was being tested. Erik learned during his tough first season that placing a few fingers in the right place on his wrist closes the circuit connecting the mind to the physical. When it was time for Erik to pull off a mega-pressure tee shot or drop a winning putt, he—and most of the guys on the Rangers’ squad—was consistently able to calm his nerves even if they were clanging like fire alarms. Then, with all systems in sync, they could swing just as smooth as you please. That’s how Coach Ed Hipp explained it many times in his matter-of-fact way to these boys on the practice range. And here was one of his students, in a sudden-death playoff for the Iowa State title, examining his pulse.

Ed knew Erik was balancing his emotions, but this was Erik’s first test in major competition, and Ed felt like his own entire value as a man, a husband, a father, a coach and a meditation teacher would be declared in the next few minutes. His own pulse accelerated, his brow was wet with perspiration in the cool 48 degree afternoon sun. He looked desperate as a householder throwing his last paycheck on the roulette table in Vegas. Just this once, c’mon man.

Just this once.

Ed wasn’t the only one getting nervous. He saw the worried looks on Lotus high parents who had driven a hundred miles to cheer their sons in the State playoffs. The farmers in the gallery, wearing work boots, bib overalls and polyester visor caps promoting various farm seed companies, started whispering about Joven’s extremely long pause on the fifth tee—had the kid lost it, was he just stalling or what?

The crowd grew restless, the voices now louder. Hipp’s face turned embarrassingly red. Erik, just hit the freakin’ ball, will ya….

But the coach’s stellar player had now taken this practice to the extreme. Erik was a loner and had persistently distanced himself from the squad. He either was late or didn’t show for scheduled team practices. And if he did make it to practice he was silent, withdrawn, and occupied with his own private world. Erik, the Lone Ranger, now stood by himself on the tee exploring a transcendental moment. He stirred, the rural Iowa crowd’s loud whispers distracting him. The entire gallery heard a farmer ask, his raspy voice breaking the spell, “What the hell is that kid trying to do with his eyes closed and all?”

“Up yours, old man,” scoffed Erik as he gripped his driver with a menacing grin on his freckled face.

Ed’s shoulders sagged. All his hope snapped as he looked over at Erik. He wanted to strangle the kid. What the hell are you trying to do Erik? Start a range war?

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