The Hacker: As the hangover wears off, make sure your mind is blank

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The Independent Online

Even more powerful than the hangovers they wake up with this morning will be the feeling felt by most hackers that this is going to be the year when their golfing dreams will blossom at last.

A sadly desperate hope, to be sure, but if hackers weren't so incurably optimistic we wouldn't still be trying to play a game so obviously beyond us.

And if you've spent many forlorn years in pursuit of a better golf swing, even the faintest hope of a new dawn is a comfort.

The secret behind the perfect swing is out there somewhere. Ben Hogan claimed to know it but died without revealing it to the world.

Some say his secret was that it is all in the mind. Others say it is all in the hands. The equally legendary Sam Snead said it was all in the feet.

He recommended that beginners should learn to swing in their bare feet because spiked golf shoes encouraged bad swings by applying an artificial grip to the ground. No wonder we get confused.

It is confusion that I intend to avoid. Instead of entering the new year befuddled by resolutions, I'm going to empty my mind, do what comes naturally and keep it simple.

Influential voices support this approach. I'm not sure Albert Einstein played the game but one of his more quoted proclamations is: "Simplicity is genius."Leonardo da Vinci said: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". But he always was a bit wordy.

I asked my latest trainer for a few words of advice to pass on to hackers on New Year's Day and he immediately replied: "Ignore your thoughts, trust your feelings."

You can't get simpler than that. It's the philosophy John Hastings deals in at the St Andrews Major club near Cardiff. He drills his pupils in the four reasons why they find the game so difficult: they think too much; they try too hard; they are too tense; they use too much force.

If they can relax and find their natural swing, he says, they will improve because most of the tools they need to play better golf are hidden within them.

That so many of my tools remain undetected is not the fault of his instruction but of getting an old body trained in the devil's work to fully adapt to a new style.

I am swinging more naturally and hitting the ball better but what I can't master is the consistency.

I no longer grip the club like I'm strangling a chicken, my down-swing only occasionally resembles a trainee lumberjack and my short game is acquiring subtleties I never thought possible.

Last year I had unprecedented success in match-play competitions. Yet my ambition to end a 10-year failure to break 100 in a medal is regularly ruined by a sudden lurch back to the old ways.

I promised that once I broke 100, I would give John full credit for the transformation he has caused but he doesn't deserve to wait that long.

There's a strong element of Buddhism in his themes of relaxation and inner harmony but he has a technical background as a professional player in European tournaments, and as a teaching pro in Germany and France. He also had a spell as Craig Stadler's caddy.

But now he is convinced that the answer lies in the natural approach instead of filling minds with various tips. The swing should be one easy movement and not the result of a sequence of thoughts.

The prospect of a year when I not only don't have to worry about my golf but I don't even have to think about it has a certain attraction.