If you follow the PGA Tour on Facebook or Twitter, chances are you’ve seen the work of Erik Anders Lang. Among other things, he’s the host of Skratch TV’s online series “Adventures in Golf,” which explores the most unique and unorthodox ways golf is played around the world, from the slums of Mumbai to the prisons of Louisiana.
Over the past few years, Lang has been working on a documentary called Be the Ball, which features a star-studded cast of interviews, from Rory McIlroy to Samuel L. Jackson. With the film almost completed, Erik and I chatted about his career and golf.
Q: For our readers who aren’t familiar with your work, give us some background into who you are and how you got into golf media?
Erik Anders Lang: When I was growing up, I hated golf. It was the opposite of everything I stood for. I didn’t like the old-money/country club stereotype, you know? I obviously didn’t understand golf, because if I did I probably would have liked it. Around the age of 30, I tried it at the urging of my brother, who was constantly asking me to play. Finally one day he asked me, and for whatever reason I said, “Fine, but only because I want to prove you wrong.” Something caught my attention, and I just loved it; the flight of the ball, the feeling of hitting the sweet spot, the realization that it’s not a private sport… I started seeing, very strangely, these connections between golf and spirituality, and found it to be a quite meditative game.
I set out on a journey to make a film about that side of golf, and that took me into meeting all of these interesting people. I had a realization that even the best players in the world use “spiritual techniques” to gain an edge, i.e. meditation. So that took me to one of the cool pieces of the film, Be the Ball, which is an experiment where we had 50 golfers and measured the effect that meditating before a round had on their golf games. In the process of making that film, the PGA Tour reached out to me and said they’d like me to host a golf show (with Skratch TV). I said “I’m not really a host, but sure, I’ll try anything!”
I was in their office a couple months later and they asked me if I had any ideas of what I’d like to do for the show. I told them I’d like to go around the world and golf with strange people in strange places and call it “Adventures in Golf.” They liked the idea and said, “Great, we’ll start shooting in a few months,” and that was it.
Q: How did Be the Ball start, and how has it evolved throughout the filming process?
EAL: I think that a documentary, by definition, is something where you start out with a specific question and end up answering something different, something often more complex or significant. I started out wanting to uncover golf’s more mystical, spiritual aspects, and so that was centered around things like Golf in the Kingdom, Bill Murray’s improvised line in Caddyshack about the Dalai Lama, and the connections between The Legend of Bagger Vance and the ancient Indian text, the Bhagavad Gita. And then, last but not least, Zen Golf, which is a golf performance book written by a devoted Buddhist meditator, Dr. Joseph Parent.
Very shortly after I started playing golf, I called Dr. Parent and ended up meeting him at his home in Ojai, California. We became friends, and then the documentary began to be about him and the connections between golf and meditation. That might have been fine, but it didn’t seem as interesting as an idea I came up with after filming for two years, which was: Can we actually prove that golf is a spiritual/mental game? Somehow, I convinced a leading doctor to help me make this experiment a reality and make it real, credible science. So we began to do the experiment under the lens of the documentary itself, and it was a really wild journey that was so wonderful to be a part of.
Q: What is the status of the project. Is it near completion or still a work in progress?
EAL: We’re very close to completing it. The film should be out by late 2017/early 2018. As of right now, we’re pretty happy with the product we have. Hopefully, it will be a big game changer in golf. I think there is a way for people to watch this and not only be entertained, but when the film’s over, they’ll have the realization that, “Oh, I can play this game however I want. What am I going to do to make the most of what I have left of this game — or life?” It’s a film about golf, but it’s really about life. And anyone who’s ever played golf for more than a couple rounds knows that golf is a lot like life, only golf is a lot more complicated (laughs). It’s for golfers, but also for non-golfers, to show that it’s really not how they think it is.
Q: One of the cool things about the “Adventures in Golf” series is that it is very much about breaking those preconceptions of what golf is/isn’t supposed to be. What would you say you’ve learned from the series?
EAL: I’ve learned so many things, but not necessarily all of them have to do with golf. I’d say that one of the biggest is that just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. When the PGA Tour offered me this job, I told them I don’t know what I’m doing, and they said to just go for it. In that sense, the earlier episodes were the most fun in that there was a sense of discovery associated with them. And sometimes golf is a lot like that; the more you play golf, the more you tend to waltz up to the tee and say, “I know what’s going to happen,” even though you know there’s no such thing as two identical golf shots. Learning that was great.
I had never played golf outside of America. I had only played golf for two or three years and then our first episode was in Scotland. What a deep pleasure… I can’t express how grateful I am for that opportunity. I know a lot of golfers who have played their whole lives and never been. In some sense, it’s like having food without dessert or steak without potatoes; it’s really hard to have perspective on golf without playing it where it began. It’s not like the ground or air is different; yeah it’s windy and wet, but I’m talking more about the people and the general sort of mental experience of golf there. The people that play in Scotland are just… I don’t know, they’re happier than they are in America; they’ve got something figured out there that we need to work on. You know, they play matches. You don’t hear people in the clubhouse talking about shooting a 78, you hear things like one up, two up, 3 and 2, whatever. They just have a different part of the golf game there, and that was really interesting to learn.
Then as we went further into the rabbit hole and went to all of these different places, I found that golf doesn’t even need to be played on grass! I’ve played it on dirt, I’ve played it on brick, you know? Whatever we think golf is… is ultimately exactly what it’s not. You go around the world and find that some people view golf as very different. And so, if you try to put a name on golf, it is very futile, because you would need as many definitions of golf as there are golfers themselves. It was really great to spend time with different groups of people who all basically said, “We agree that golf should be played like this,” from playing in the nude to playing in the slum alleyways to playing at night in the middle of Dubai. It was interesting to just spend time with people in their homes and have dinner with them, so to speak. Then the greatest part of it is that you come back home and see all of these new things about your own golf game and your own world that make you say, “Oh, I didn’t see it that way before.”
Q: What was your favorite episode of Adventures in Golf to shoot?
EAL: I’m a pretty deep guy; I know that I seem like a funny guy who just wants to have a laugh, and that’s totally true 100 percent of the time. But at the same exact time, I’m really interested in subjects that are not always funny or comedic. So for me, the episode that sticks out is the episode we did in the Louisiana prison. Usually, if someone hasn’t seen the show, I like to start there because it has a sense about it of truly uncovering something important and deeper than golf.
I’ve actually been in touch with the warden trying to figure out a way to let the inmates play golf. I think that just because golf is considered to be a country club sport doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to enjoy it. Just because someone’s a murderer doesn’t mean that they can’t be a great golfer (laughs). But actually, why can’t they play golf just because they’ve committed murder? They can play basketball; they can play tennis; they can lift weights; they can read in the library. The punishment is that they’ll never be able to see the free world. Why is there a punishment that includes no golf? It doesn’t make any sense to me. They should be able to do labor and buy themselves a tee time just like they can do labor and buy themselves a cheeseburger. One of the other great things about that episode was that Warden Cain himself is a deeply spiritual dude who really believes in reformation and forgiveness. So that episode really checks all the boxes for me. We have some new episodes coming out in Season 2 that are going to be drop dead gorgeous. We went to some places that most people in the golf world do not know even exist, yet they are huge, amazing stories.
Q: With Skratch Golf you’ve also traveled to a variety of Tour stops and gotten the chance to work with tons of pros. Who’s been your favorite interview so far?
EAL: That’s a tough one. Well, I interviewed Charley Hoffman in a port-a-potty and that went really well. He definitely one of my favorite guys on Tour; he is just such a nice guy. You know, when you see Charley he will smile at you and that is just a really sweet thing. So that was a great interview.
I also interviewed Jesper Parnevik for a series we’re doing called “Champions Dinner.” The idea was based on the Champions Dinners held at the Masters and other events. I thought we should do the same thing, but instead of winning a certain tournament, you’re just on the Champions Tour. Basically, we structured it so that we could talk about whatever we wanted, we could curse; let’s spend an hour with these guys who can tell stories for days! It worked out pretty well, and Jesper was totally game for the process.
Q: Last question, what’s next for you professionally and within golf?
EAL: There’s a TV project that’s in the works, a travel show. There’s a screenplay that I wrote, a romantic comedy based in Los Angeles. I was a filmmaker long before I got into golf, so it’s been really funny to watch my career get caught up in this tidal wave of golf, kind of at exactly the right time. It seems that right as I got into golf, golf kind of embedded itself into me — not to make myself seem more important than I am. Because I didn’t really ask for any of this; it just started with me saying yes to my brother trying to get me to play golf for the 100th time. The next thing I know, I was at the PGA Show and people were coming up to me thanking me for “Adventures in Golf,” and I was just like, “People have actually seen that?”
So it’s been really exciting. On some level, I want to keep doing as much stuff as I can within golf and I think that will happen naturally. I also want to do something about meditation in a nuts-and-bolts, simple-to-follow way since the experience I had with meditation in Be the Ball was so gratifying. I found that not only did I like it, but a lot of those who did the experiment in the film also enjoyed my meditations. Other than that, I have a new dog named Snowball. He and I will probably grow old together (laughs).
WATCH: How To Remove a Stuck Tip Weight
Tip weights are one of the smallest components used to assemble a golf club, and they get stuck all the time. That causes a lot of problems if you want to re-use a shaft. In this how-to video, I explain the best practices for removing tip weights, as well as the tools you should use to remove them.
Have you got Golfzheimers?
While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.
Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition. n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do). I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.
As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?
Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age. The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.
As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.
The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.
Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you. Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”
The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay
There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?
Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.
The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside. There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.
The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.
In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.
The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.
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