Murphy was inspired to write the book after his time at an Indian ashram. He became interested in the similarities between descriptions of successful athletes and people who said they had achieved the state of Zen. The novel spawned the Shivas Irons Society, an organization whose members combine golf and meditation. It was also made into a movie in 2010.
I read this book in the mid 90’s – at the time I held a 5 handicap at The Oaks Golf Club in Ontario – and I became interested in the aspect of ‘flow’ or states of mind when engaged in this most complicated of all athletic endeavors.
Investigating this phenomenon in three of the game’s greatest players – Fred Couples, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – it became quite clear that even if they don’t acknowledge a ‘Zen-like state of mind’ they do admit to not being in ‘personal control’ when they are playing at their very best. I came across a reporter who had interviewed all three and asked them, "How many swing thoughts do you have while addressing and hitting the golf ball?"
Here are their individual responses...
Fred Couples, says... "As far as swing and techniques are concerned, I don't know diddly-squat. When I'm playing well I don't even take aim!"
Jack Nicklaus responds, "Perhaps one or two. I must stress however, that no matter how many things you think about at address, you are, so to speak, merely programming the computer. Once you throw the switch the computer takes over! The golf swing `happens' far too fast to consciously control your muscles."
Tiger Woods when asked a similar question... "From the time I walk up to the ball until I see it in the air, my mind is blank."
What seems to have peaked my interest was the fact that when I was focused on lowering my handicap (got down to 4) it was a real struggle and took most of the enjoyment out of the game. But when I relaxed and didn’t even think about the swing or the expected or hoped for result, my level of enjoyment and my scores improved.
I was truly "In the Flow."
Translating this insight into business really lightened things up! Instead of forcing myself to think and strategize, set goals and targets, I would simply allow the same Intelligence’ that plays golf so well, to go ahead and play the biz game; this might include strategizing and planning but not burning up energy and molecules or creating stress.
For me Being in the flow of the Intelligence in which the game of life is appearing seems a much wiser position than trying to manipulate Life. Besides, there is an old saying in golf...
“You can’t beat the guy who keeps score!”