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Zen Golf by Dr. Joseph Parent

There are opening lines in classic books that set the tone and draw you in with a few perfectly selected words:

Call me Ishmael. – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Zen Golf opens with a similar powerful statement that sets the tone and the readers expectations:

I’m a golf coach but I don’t instruct golfers on their swing.

From this starting point, you know that Dr. Parent will not be talking about grip position or weight shifting during downswing or ball placement. This book takes on the most difficult element of the game of golf, the mental aspect.

To start this review openly, I love this book. I have read it several times, highlighted several pages, given it as a loaner or gift to family members, and adopted several principles in my own game. I credit this book for shaving 10 strokes off my game.   This is not a book to read in one sitting. I would recommend that you buy several good cigars (I like Acid One or Kuba Kuba) and spend a few Saturday nights reading a few chapters at a time. After your read a chapter, take a few puffs on your cigars and contemplate the words as you watch smoke rings float away. That is the way I like to read books that challenge the mind as this book.  For a real mind blower, read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair.

Dr. Parent fills his book with a combination of Zen parables, real world professional golfer client examples, and simple exercises that you can try on your next round after reading. His tone makes it feel that he is talking to you in the clubhouse and giving you some pointers that other people found very helpful.

Favorite Sections/Passages of Zen Golf:

One of the sections that changed my golf game was the chapter entitled “Par for the Course.” Dr. Parent takes the stance that the par written on the scorecard does not apply to everyone:

I suggest that you set your own par for the course. Change the par written on the scorecard to reflect your handicap, as well as conditions, making it your “personal par for the day.”

Before each round, on your scorecard, cross out and rewrite par given to each of the harder holes on the course. Add one for as many as you receive handicap strokes.  In the photo below, I took my 14 handicap and added one stroke to each par on the first 14 handicap holes.

Readjust Par for Yourself
Take your handicap and add one stroke to par of that many holes.

This took so much unnecessary pressure of my own game. I play better knowing that a bogey is a good hole for me. A double bogey is not a disaster as it is just one over Dan’s par. A true par feels so awesome. As my handicap lowered, I reduced the number of elevated pars on the card.

Another enlightening chapter is “How to get from the Practice Tee to the First Tee” that addresses the change in all of us from the driving range to the first tee box. On the range, we hit balls with no consequence and usually several with the same club. A great exercise is to play a course in your mind on the range. Changing club with each shot to get your body in the pattern of what the course will show you.

The book is full of other great chapters that offer real world yet simple answers to help keep you out of the danger zone:

  • Beware of Trying for a Few Extra Yards
  • Fire Your Evil Caddie
  • Take Your Medicine
  • Unconditional Confidence

Like the Zen parable, you must first empty your teacup to allow the knowledge in. This book is a must add to any golf library. Do not read it once but several times. I guarantee you will find something new each time you read it. In the section on dealing with interference, Dr. Parent has a line that sums up the purpose of this book:

Don’t change your swing. Change your mind.

Other books, by Dr. Joseph Parent:

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