White Ball Therapy
This past Thursday I competed in the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier. Although I did not win one of the three coveted spots that would grant me the honor of returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh where I played Oakmont Country Club as a teenager, the quest was well worth it. My stellar 87 was the best bad round of my professional career, as it capped off a five month journey to reclaim myself afer a long season of loss. And reclaim I did. What I discovered in my quest to qualify was the power of golf to bring healing to a disengaged soul. My entry into white ball therapy all began with a phone call from my friend and former coach, Jon Corliss, on Christmas day.
“Veronica, I think it is time for you to pursue a championship. It’s been a while now since you have set a golf goal and gone after it.” I hemmed and hawed at Jon’s loving provocation. “The last time I tried qualifying for the Open was three years ago and I didn’t make it. It’s been ten years since I have fully dedicated myself to an all out quest. I felt like such a failure when I did not accomplish my goal of qualifying, even though I went from shooting 80 to 69 in six months time.” Jon counter-responded: “The only way to work through a failed championship quest is to enter another championship.”
His words rang true. I’ve spent a decade trying to move forward with my life, but never really resolved my own twin towers falling which included life losses and disappointments well beyond my golf failures. I knew that authentic success begins with a positive outlook from within, and until I had some places of my soul healed, no attempt on the outside would prove fruitful. “You got me, Jon. I’m in, if you will coach me along my way again.” “Of course I will,” Jon quickly responded. “Your focus this time will not be the result. Your focus this time will be the process only. Your goal is to fully engage your heart in the process of preparing for a championship.” “Wow!,” I thought, “This is a goal I can respond to. If I see the process as the goal, I can not fail.” I knew from my own coaching practice that defining success from the start of any goal-journeying, is key. My heart leaped with a fresh inhalation of life. “Where do we begin?”
Jon’s brilliance as a coach, player, and fitness trainer is his ability to break a quest down into processes. “We begin by identifying the processes you will need to practice and have into place for your tournament. To walk 36 holes in one day, you will need to be able to walk 14 miles in one day. Let’s start with walking up to an hour a day and adding one minute on to each day. You’ll need to do 150 lunges and 150 twisting motions. You will also need to hit 50 good short game shots, 50 good long game shots, and 50 good putts each practice session. With the time element you are dealing with, you can only focus on one swing change, and we’ll need to determine when you switch from practice mode into playing mode.” Voila! All of a sudden my mind had a structure to engage in, process targets, achievable goals. These simple but clear processes began to create new tracks in my left brain, which had been so shut down from mountains of setbacks. I literally felt my left brain re-awakening with the laying down of these very clear tracks.
Next–since Jon was in Virginia, and I was in North Carolina, I needed to find a local swing coach. I prayed about who that should be. This was the first time I prayed about such a decision. Kelly Mitchum, from Pinehurst Resort, came to mind. I scheduled one lesson a week with Kelly, who was the perfect choice. His laid back style, humor, and keen eye was just what I needed. I told him, “Kelly, I have two months to qualify for the Open. I need some open heart surgery on my swing. I have this over-the-top move which is so debilitating to my hitting the ball well.” “If you really want to make a change, we’ll just work on one change. You need to move your hands to a laid off position at the top,” he replied. We worked and worked on it until I finally captured the feeling. “This feels twisted,” I said. “No,” Kelly replied. “What you were doing was twisted. Getting into the right position at the top of your swing is untwisted. You have been doing this for so long that what feels wrong for you is actually right.” He was impressed that I actually could do my new move within the first few lessons. The difference between where my old move was at the top of my backswing and my new move was a whopping 55 degrees. We discovered that I could get to impact seven frames quicker with my new move than my old move. I was filled with fresh hope! Change was actually possible and taking place.
Next–I met Scott, a Titlest-certified golf specific trainer. I hired him to help me with my golf fitness goals. I discovered that golf after 50 requires special attention to releasing the stress that accumulates into your muscles after demanding practice sessions. His myofacial techniques helped me a lot to release pain, recapture energy, and build body-awareness as an athlete once again.
I was beginning to see how white ball therapy was taking effect: setting an achievable process-oriented goal, awakening and directing my left-brain with clear-cut processes, creating physical strength and body-awareness, developing a support team of mentors, and then identifying my caddy club which is a group of friends who would cheer me along my way. Ova Jean was my chief caddy club member.
A dear friend whose husband recently passed away, we became a great support team for one another. Ova Jean opened up her home to me on the weekends, so I could come to Pinehurst to play and practice. I would help her to exercise, and provide some much needed company and support. She offered encouragement and support to me in a way my own mother was not able to. In fact, the two months I spent coming to Ova Jean’s on the weekends brought tremendous emotional healing to me. Home was not a safe emotional place for me, and her just being open and emotionally present, even in the midst of her own grief recovery, was a tremendous gift to me. “I just want to help you!” she would say all the time. She even gifted me a trip to the Pinehurst Spa when I was utterly fatigued. That special day I felt a restoration of my soul as a woman. Let’s face it–there’s nothing about golf that is feminine, and my trip to the spa helped me re-capture my feminine energy in a way that golf drained it.
Other friends came along to offer their cheers and well-wishes, and I began to experience favor again. It was a blessing to have the privilege of playing various golf courses in the area, and practicing one afternoon at the exclusive practice range where only the Duke Golf team is allowed to practice. I made some special connections at the Young Life Golf Tournament, and met a new spiritual father at another tournament. Ann and Katy, two outstanding college students whom I have mentored, encouraged me along the way. People were coming back into my life again, after being disconnected for so long during my care-taking years with Mom. It was all happening through my golf quest.
The other thing that white ball therapy revealed to me was that questing does have its setbacks, but that doesn’t mean you quit. Early on, I was rushed to the hospital with an excruciating kidney stone attack. My condition, which I am still dealing with, zapped me of about half of my energy. A painful shoulder condition re-surfaced after hitting a lot of balls. I realized that my swing change was going to be a long term fix, when I thought I could get it right away. What I was able to execute on the practice range I was not able to do adding speed and the pressure of competitive play. At one point, I lost all my motivation.
That’s where my faith came in. What do you do when you have real weaknesses? I wanted to give up. My best friend in golf from my mini-tour years, Isabelle, a real champ, encouraged me to turn my weaknesses over to God and allow Him to work through them. I did. It was new for me to acknowledge my weaknesses, and allow myself to receive strength from others, holding up the weakness like an empty cavity that I needed others to fill. This was a vulnerable place for me, but one where I saw God work the most. Ugonna, a friend who was praying for me gave me a Scripture that empowered me from Hebrews 10:35,36:
Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward. For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away and enjoy to the full what is promised.
This spiritual empowerment kept me in the game and committed to “engaging my heart in the process of preparing for a championship” when I wanted to quit. I could not see how I could score in a competitive situation with my “old swing.” I had to commit to my goal, which was not the result, but the process.
Two more sources of empowerment came to fill up my empty bowl. I met Dr. Richard Coop, friend and noted sports psychologist, at the Charlotte P.G.A. tournament. He graciously agreed to meet with me a few days before the Qualifier. I was so focused on my swing mechanics that I didn’t know how to get my head in play mode. Dr. Coop did that in about 30 minutes. Just that morning, I wanted to withdraw from the tournament because I knew I was not where I wanted to be health-wise and swing-wise to even have a chance. We still agreed to meet, despite the morning rain. When I arrived at Old Chatam, the sun broke out. After a wonderful visit of catching up, we headed out to the range. “Motion comes from motion. It’s hard to create motion from a static place,” he instructed. After giving me a few motion drills, I was wacking the ball just great. My head was in the game. I felt like a player! It was such an amazing experience to have someone, a true mental wizard, clear out your head, in just a few minutes! I thought about Dr. Coop’s statement on motion, and how it was working for my life, too. Just getting into motion on my golf goal was getting me back into motion in my life. Nothing replaces action when action is needed, When loss characterizes a season of your life, it is easy to get stuck in inertia. Nothing will change that–not hope, prayer, or thinking. The only thing that creates motion in your life is motion. White ball therapy was teaching me to “get moving.” Just take imperfect action and get going.
My other bowl-filler was my caddy, Alan. I met Alan and his wife while playing through their foursome during a practice round at Carolina Trace, the site of the Qualifier. I just happened to ask him if he knew of a caddy at the club, and he graciously offered to caddy for me himself. I didn’t know until later that Alan holds a plus 1 handicap. In addition to being a great golfer, he knew the course better than anyone else at the club. I had been handed a secret weapon. I didn’t even need to keep detailed notes on the course, because Alan knew every inch and was a very strategic player. The support and shot of empowerment I felt from Alan’s competence, leadership, and positive encouragement was priceless.
When the day of the Qualifier arrived, I was as ready as I was going to be. It was such a new experience for me to enter the tournament as a woman who was playing golf, as opposed to a golfer who was out to conquer the course. I felt such a strange mix of peace, freedom, and emotional presence that I knew I had gone through some kind of personal passageway and healing just by showing up at the first tee. Much to my great surprise, both Ann and Katy showed up to follow my play, along with Ova Jean who met me at the 18th hole after the first round.
It was such a pleasure to play with Stacey Kim, a sophomore from Duke, my alma mater. Seeing this 20 year old golf whiz reminded me of when I played for Duke as a rising whiz myself, over 30 years ago. Watching Stacey made me realize how much of a victory it was for me just to be out there with all the young whipper-snappers, as I am sure I was the oldest competitor there. As anticipated, my swing did not hold up, and about the 16th hole, I began to get a heat stroke. There was no way I was going to make it through the heat and humidity a second round, especially with my kidney stone condition. “If you don’t have to do it,” Alan suggested, “I wouldn’t. It’s not worth making your health condition worse.” It was a totally new thing for me to set a limit for myself and know that was the most important thing. For the second time in my life, I withdrew from a tournament. The first time was when I almost collapsed on the golf course because I pushed myself too hard and didn’t know how to set limits for myself. That tendency produced seventeen years of working through a chronic fatigue syndrome. Setting a limit for myself on the golf course brought me full circle, and was another facet of white ball therapy that produced healing for me.
So the highlight of my day was having lunch with my trusted supporters who were there for me: Ova Jean, Alan, Katy, and Ann. I ate, laughed, replenished myself, and enjoyed some extraordinary conversation, with not one thought of failure, defeat, or let-down in any way.
As we left the course, I thought about all the people who I became aware of through my quest who had their own championships to pursue: Alan’s wife who is a breast cancer survivor, Ova Jean who is navigating through grief recovery, Isabelle who has suffered tremendous health challenges that affected her golf career, Ann and Katy who are deciding on career tracks after college and defining who they are in the world, Scott who is pressing through the struggle of launching a business, Jon who is struggling to get to the next level of senior tour play. We all have our championships—our processes of struggle, contest, and conquest.
I then reflected on my own struggle and contest–of where I was just eight months prior–in the hospital due to a total mental and emotional breakdown. The thought that kept running across my mind at the time was, “I am totally alone. I have no support in the world, no sense of real family since Mom died.” That thinking kept sabotaging my life and forward motion after my season of loss. The doctor wanted to put me on drugs to help me get through that season, but I knew that the answer for me was not drugs, but a new reality of community, connectedness to vital relationships, and getting unstuck in my old patterns of thinking–of knowing others and being known. I was determined to not stop at the struggle and contest, but to get through all the way to conquest.
I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I am grateful for discovering the power of white ball therapy to put my soul back into proper alignment with life, making the best bad round of my life a meaningful one. Today I am healed.
Veronica Karaman is a speaker, certified life-coach and golf professional in Cary, NC. She can be reached at veronica@truechampioncoaching.