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Be The Ball: Filmmaker exploring ‘the zone,’ mental side of golf

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Documentary filmmaker Erik Anders Lang is turning his attention to golf, and he’s working on one heck of a project.

Be The Ball,  Lang’s in-progress film, explores the mental side of the game through interviews with luminary figures in golf and the aid of a device known as the Focus Band. Lang’s film will culminate with a grand experiment: a meditation retreat for both pro and amateur golfers to aid and evaluate their abilities to get in the zone.

Lang has made documentaries for Serato, Louis Vuitton, The Guggenheim, Honda, MTV and TED, in addition to the feature-length documentary The Story of Braeden Reed. He already has hundreds of hours of interviews with enthusiasts, professionals and industry figures from Bill Murray to Rory McIlroy to the author of Golf in the Kingdom.

He’s gathering footage at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge this week and has also set up an IndiGoGo to cover some of the production funding that you can check out here.

I had the chance to catch up with the filmmaker about his background in the game and the film.

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On his background in golf

“I grew up in an avid golf family, but I didn’t like it. I had complete contempt prior to investigation. I finally tried it like five years ago. I tried it and I fell in love immediately. It was a mix of everything that I really loved: inner challenge, group challenge, sport, nature.

Once I started playing, the next day I went and bought clubs…started reading every book, watching every movie. The movie idea came about pretty shortly after that.”

On the idea for the film

“The idea…A documentary that takes pro golfers on a meditation retreat to see how the process of focusing your mind can affect your golf score.

“I read a book early on called Zen Golf. I called the author. He said, ”Do you know how to meditate? You should come up, I’ll teach you. I had a kind of spiritual experience. Years went by and he became my kind of mentor. We would play golf together and meditate together. That was kind of the first brick.”

“Then I tried a thing called the Focus Band, which solidified how the movie will work. The Focus Band is a thing you wear on your head and it tells you whether or not you’re in the zone. I was totally skeptical. It worked. It knew when I was properly meditating.

“I couldn’t get it to say I was in the zone while I was there staring at a golf ball. Whenever I went back to the golf ball it would fall out. My relationship to the golf ball was anything but present. It was future and past.

“It made me say, ‘Wow.’

“On the PGA Tour, any player I go up to and say, ‘Hey is golf a spiritual game?’ They’ll pretty much all say, ‘Yes.’

“So, I saw there was this golden story lying under the veneer of every PGA Tour event. I thought: I’ve already got my theories about golf, and now I have a way to literally measure it.”

On his progress so far

“I started bringing my camera with me about four years ago. I interviewed a lot of the greats slowly but surely.

“I’ve done a lot of testing with the guys and the Focus Band to make sure the experiment is going to…work on camera. For each person, putting this Focus Band on is like seeing themselves in the mirror for the first time. I thought: This is awesome; we’ve got a golden brick here.

“We’ve attracted some great producers to the film [the producer of Rudy and Swingers, for example]. We have financing partners when this crowdfunding campaign is complete. We’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot further to go. A lot of what we’re waiting to shoot is this experiment with these great players…that’s the story.

“The campaign will be done January 12th. Then, we’ve got to wait just a little bit for the other funding sources to come in. The IndieGoGo campaign is a way for people to get involved now and learn about the story and get really cool rewards that are individual to the film.

“Pre-production: We’ll shoot over the summer, then we’re editing for about six months. We’ll have the theatrical release around the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016.”

On what golf is

“All this brought me to this conclusion: Golf is an excuse to do anything you want. Maybe it’s stuff that you wouldn’t do otherwise…like meditate. If you think about the experience of going to play a round of golf, it’s so interesting and bizarre on so many levels.

“Pete Dye’s whole thing is: ‘You think you’re going to get better next Saturday. But next Saturday doesn’t come.

“You’re showing up every time and hoping that it’s going to be that magical round. It pretty much never is. Every round of golf is incredibly heartbreaking.”

On his hopes for the film

“This is an entertaining thing, but really it’s aimed toward change and helping people’s golf games and really helping people’s lives. I need to make this information as palatable and as interesting as possible to get people to watch it.

“I would like to see this film have an effect on so many things. I would like to see the non-golf audience look at golf and say, ‘That looks cool. I’d really like to try that.’

“I would like it to make it into the wide view of people watching movies. That’s why it’s called Be The Ball. It goes beyond just the golf ball.

“I would love golfers to say, ‘Wait a minute, have I been doing this all wrong? Is getting upset after every shot that doesn’t go in the hole the right way to do it?’

“And then I would like the Focus Band to make it into all facets of life…they’re talking about getting it into kid’s video games, and I would also like to see a large shift in how we think about thinking.

“It’s cool to see people so excited about this idea, because it’s so important to me.”

To follow Erik’s progress, check out the Be The Ball IndieGoGoFacebookand Twitter pages. 

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  1. Dr Golf

    Dec 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I have been in practice for over 20 years and have seen the positive results of neurofeedback therapy. When used properly, this type of training can be very effective. If golf teaching professionals get trained on how to do this, I think this could be a very valuable aide to those looking to achieve peak performance.

    As an avid golfer who loves the game, I hope this movie helps bring golf back into the positive media spotlight.

  2. GolfFan

    Dec 3, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Just saw an interview of this on Back9Network – does a good job explaining it more. Made more sense once I watched that. Here’s the link: http://www.back9network.com/article/be-the-ball-could-feature-mcilroy-murray-if-funded/

  3. ParGolfer

    Dec 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Very interesting topic but completely agree with the premise. I personally wasn’t able to get to single digit handicap (then eventually scratch) until I did some mental game training with a PGA teaching professional.

    I think the video is hilarious – and exactly what golf needs right now…some humor combined with something that might actually help them improve their game (or at least enjoyment of it).

  4. Chris

    Dec 3, 2014 at 4:24 am

    I checked out the website for Focus Band. Seems they are trotting out the tired old Left Brain/Right Brain myth, repackaging it and selling it with a (no doubt) expensive piece of electronics.

    The claim proven results but 8 PGA touring professionals is a laughably poor sample.

  5. No bueno

    Dec 3, 2014 at 1:03 am

    I would like to kill this guy. Thank you.

  6. dot dot

    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    What a crock. Step up, hit the ball, and move on. Done, done and done

  7. tedesco

    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Hope that’s a golf ball in his pocket at 1.11

  8. TheBrokenTee

    Dec 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Article was awesome, video was stupid.

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the RBC Heritage

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, we saw C.T. Pan claim the RBC Heritage, holding his nerve down the tricky finish to win his first title on the PGA Tour. Here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action

Hot

C.T. Pan rode a hot putter to victory over the weekend at the RBC Heritage. Despite struggling slightly on the greens on day one of the event, Pan hit blistering form over the next three days with the flatstick and finished the tournament having gained over six strokes over the field for his work on the greens. It isn’t the first time that the Taiwanese player has done so either, with this being just his third best weekly performance with the flat-stick of his career. Pan also gained almost four strokes around the green, in what was a week-long display of short game excellence. Take a full look at what clubs drove Pan to victory at the RBC Heritage here.

Matt Kuchar is having a spectacular season on Tour, and at Harbour Town, the American produced the best putting performance of his career to date. The 40-year-old gained 9.4 strokes over the field on the greens at Hilton Head, beating his previous best total of 8.3 strokes which came at the 2012 Players championship, an event which he won. Kuchar’s putting peaked over the weekend, where he gained six of those 9.4 strokes.

It may just have been yet another solid top-20 finish for Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage, but the signs are very good that something better is just around the corner for the American. Simpson produced his best display of 2019 tee to green at Harbour Town, gaining 7.5 strokes over the field with his long game, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the former U.S. Open champion came into the event having gained strokes in this area in nine of his last 10 outings. Look for Simpson to get himself in the thick of things on a Sunday afternoon soon.

Cold

Dustin Johnson’s collapse on Sunday at Harbour Town was a shock to many. The 34-year-old fired a 77 to plummet down the leaderboard in the final round, and Johnson’s irons were the issue behind him not getting the job done. The American lost strokes to the field for his approach play three out of the four days and finished 63rd in this department for the week. Johnson lost a total of 3.2 strokes to the field for his approach play, which is the worst total in this area of his career.

Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut at the RBC Heritage, and the blame for this lies almost entirely with his putting. DeChambeau lost over five strokes to the field for his work on the greens over the two days he was around at Harbour Town, his worst performance with the flatstick since 2017.

Jordan Spieth’s woes continue, and once more those woes continue to be caused from the Texan’s long game. Spieth may have made the cut last week, but the three-time major champion lost three strokes to the field off the tee, and his approach play wasn’t much better. Spieth lost strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories at the RBC Heritage bar one – putting. Spieth’s putting continues to be the only part of his game that is delivering at the moment, as his play off the tee continues to cause him fits. The 25-year-old has now lost a total of 14.5 strokes for his play off the tee since the WGC-Mexico.

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Podcasts

On Spec: New Level Golf founder and designer Eric Burch

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An in-depth discussion with golf industry veteran Eric Burch: how he got his start in golf, how he has contributed to the club fitting industry, and his new company New Level Golf, which produces forged irons and wedges for every level of golfer.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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19th Hole

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