Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interview with Josh Karp - Author of "Straight Down the Middle"

I reviewed "Straight Down the Middle" a few weeks ago. Subsequent to reading the book I've had the pleasure of exchanging several emails with the author Josh Karp. You might enjoy getting to know him as I have, so I edited some of our conversations into an interview. FIRSTLY, ON A NON-GOLF TOPIC, HOW DO YOU GET TO BE A SOX FAN LIVING IN THE NORTHERN SUBURBS OF CHICAGO? I am surrounded by Cubs fans. I like them individually (some of my best friends) but despise them collectively. My grandfather was a Cubs fan who absolutely and completely hated the Sox because he was a fan of theirs back in 1919 when they threw the world series. That was it for him. He wouldn't even watch the AL unless it was the all-star game or the series. I probably became a Sox fan just to drive him nuts. IT'S BEEN ABOUT TWO YEARS SINCE YOU WROTE "STRAIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE". HOW HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN PROGRESSING SINCE THIS TIME? DID YOU BREAK 80 YET? No, not yet. I only played about 10 times last summer because after 2 years of being paid to play golf part-time the party was over and i had a hard time justifying getting out on the course. That said, I’ve had a few 80s the last two summers. I'm trying to play about once a week this year and i'm finding that even without playing as much as i would like, my game has improved in just about every way except for breaking 80. I've managed to sail past the point of implosion when i open 6 over after 3. when i get in the zone or get hot, i don't think about it in a way that will destroy the feeling, and most of all - even though i want to shoot the lowest score - I've detached from results pretty effectively. HOW HAVE YOU CONTINUED TO APPLY THE LESSONS YOU TALK ABOUT IN THE BOOK? Well, the three biggest things I take away from what I learned are this: 1) Don't keep score. I still do, but not with the avidity (if that's a word) that I once did. I can play hole to hole without thinking about what I'll have for nine or 18 and if I am counting things up it doesn't create pressure in the way it once did. 2) Loosen your grip. This is kind of related to #1 and also has improved my game immeasurably. I hit the ball so much better and even when I'm falling apart I remind myself to loosen my grip and it seems to help. and 3) Maybe most importantly, I try to go out and have good swings and enjoy swinging the club, kind of letting fortune take over. Last week was a good example. I was playing in a charity tournament with my dad, my uncle and a friend of my uncle's. It was a shotgun and i opened 6 over for what would be holes 7-9 on the back. After this I calmed down and started playing really well. I was maybe one over after 6 or 7 and hit a really nice drive and 2nd shot on a par 5. I was 130 away and grabbed my 8-iron, my 125-140 club and hit a great shot, felt perfect, was flying directly at the stick, etc. Even though the ball sailed 10 feet past and rolled off of the back of the green I was still happy with how well I hit the ball and how good it felt. This positive experience kind of negated any disappointment at not putting for birdie. IN THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK YOU DISCUSSED HOW YOUR SEARCH WAS RELATED TO IMPROVING YOUR GOLF AND YOUR LIFE, BUT IT SEEMS THAT TOWARDS THE END OF THE BOOK IT WAS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT GOLF. WAS THIS A CONSCIOUS DECISION? I think I kind of got tired of writing about my anxieties and they began to genuinely subside as the journey went on. I had that moment flying out of Scotland where I felt completely free of everything. It didn't last, at least not in that pure of a state, but that was a huge turning point for me. I tried to tie it up in the conclusion by acknowledging that I probably wasn't going to morph into Bing Crosby, but that I was going to continue to meditate and to keep slogging away at both golf and enlightenment. I FOUND IT FUNNY HOW YOU WOULD TRAVEL TO VISIT ALL THESE DEEP THINKERS AND SPIRITUAL FOLKS TO GET THEIR ASSISTANCE WITH THE MENTAL ASPECTS OF YOUR GOLF GAME, AND THE FIRST THING THEY DID WAS TO TAKE YOU OUT TO THE DRIVING RANGE. WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THIS AT THE TIME? That was pretty much the deal. It was one of the things that i thought was hilarious about the entire idea and genre of books, and something I really wanted to explore, this idea that golf and life are somehow linked. Since I'm a journalist I'm pretty much a born cynic, which is usually just an idealist with a bad case of disillusionment. I was fairly dubious about all of it while also kind of believing it and having experienced it in bits and snatches during the course of my having played the game. In the end I think that golf is about as close to spirituality as I will find. I'm unlikely to meditate on the range again, unless I'm with a Shivas Irons outing, but I surprised myself with how I was able to buy into it. AS I READ SEVERAL SECTIONS OF THE BOOK I FOUND MYSELF CONSIDERING A PARADOX: DID YOU HIT GOOD GOLFSHOTS BECAUSE YOU WERE IN A "HAPPY PLACE", OR DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE IN A "HAPPY PLACE" BECAUSE YOU JUST STRIPED A SIX-IRON. HOW DID YOU HANDLE THIS CONUNDRUM? I think it may be both. I was much more likely to stripe a six-iron if I wasn't thinking about my swing or worrying about where the ball would go, while striping the same six iron at a bad moment would definitely improve my mood. The difference was that in the past it would have made me happy and I'd have immediately started worrying about my putt. I learned to take in and appreciate each shot for what it was. The two are pretty well connected to each other and hard for me to separate. IT SEEMED YOU WERE THE HAPPIEST ON THE COURSE WHEN YOU CHOSE TO NO LONGER CARE HOW WELL YOU PLAYED, YET AT THE SAME TIME YOU HAD A VERY SPECIFIC GOAL IN MIND AS FAR AS YOUR GOLF PERFORMANCE. HOW DID YOU RECONCILE THESE TWO DIRECTIONS OF EMPHASIS? There is an amazing correlation between the amount I care about my score and the score I actually shoot. This year I've had some weird schizophrenic rounds of 50-38, 39-48, 40-49, etc. The difference between the nines corresponds to the amount I am thinking about my score or how hard I am trying. When I finally give that stuff up things get much, much better without my having to do anything but swing a club and forget about the rest. But, there is a lot of paradoxical stuff in the book and within the genre. I think that's what attracted me to it. How can one get what they care about by not caring about it? Sounds insane, but is absolutely the truth. The more you do and the less you try, the more good happens. SOME ASCRIBE TO THE "THINK ABOUT NOTHING" THEORY, WHILE OTHERS ADVOCATE WE SHOULD HOLD ON TO SOME FORM OF A SWING THOUGHT AS WE GO ABOUT HITTING A SHOT. WHAT'S YOUR OPINION? I ascribe to the idea that I should focus on nothing. If i do focus on something, it is generally a feel. I want the swing to feel good. It needs to be a thought that is vague enough so that I can't obsess about it. I've never done well with guided imagery and visualization. I'm much, much better off working on something that's difficult to quantify.

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