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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.

[youtube id=”SKRGPPuvA7A” width=”620″ height=”360″]

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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10 Comments

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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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19th Hole

Tiger at the Masters: The 3 that got away

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This time last year, Tiger Woods earned his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters, breaking a 14-year drought at Augusta National and completing a storybook career comeback (see Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters WITB here).

Between his 2005 and 2019 victories, Woods gave himself several chances to reclaim the green jacket, but for one reason or another, the championship continuously eluded the 15-time major winner.

Looking back on that drought, three years in particular stick out in my mind where Woods (being the ruthless closer that he is) could, and maybe should, have capitalized on massive opportunities.

2007 Masters

A unique tournament broke out at the 2007 Masters with chilly and windy conditions meaning we would see an over-par score winning the event for the first time in a generation.

Unusually however was the fact that Tiger Woods had got himself into a fantastic position heading into the final day’s play—one stroke back of the lead and in the final group.

By the first hole on Sunday, Woods had a share of the lead. A couple of holes later, and he was the sole leader. But instead of the game’s greatest ever closer doing what he does best, we saw the first small chink in Tiger’s major armor.

Unable to keep up with the improved scoring on Sunday, Woods finished the championship two strokes behind Zach Johnson. It was the first time Woods lost a major in which he held the lead at some point in the final round.

11th hole Sunday. Woods saved par.

Summing up after the round why things hadn’t turned out the way the entire golf world expected, Woods said

“Looking back over the week I basically blew this tournament with two rounds where I had bogey, bogey finishes. That’s 4-over in two holes. The last two holes, you just can’t afford to do that and win major championships.”

2011 Masters

In one of the most exciting final rounds in Masters history, an electric front-nine charge from Woods coupled with a Rory McIlroy collapse saw the then 35-year-old tied for the lead heading into the back nine.

After back-to-back pars on the challenging 10th and 11th holes, Woods found the green on the 12th before it all slipped away. A disastrous three-putt was followed by a deflating five on the par-5 13th and an agonizing near-miss for birdie on 14.

In typical defiant fashion, Woods then flushed a long iron on the par-5 15th to give him five feet for eagle and what would have been the outright lead. But he couldn’t find the cup.

Directly following his round, a visibly miffed Woods said

“I should have shot an easy 3- or 4-under on the back nine and I only posted even. But I’m right there in the thick of it and a bunch of guys have a chance. We’ll see what happens.”

What happened was eventual champion Charl Schwartzel did what Woods said he should have done—shooting 4 under on the back to win his first major.

2013 Masters

Luck, or lack of, is a contentious topic when it comes to sports fans, but at the 2013 Masters, Woods’ shocking fate played out as if those on Mount Olympus were orchestrating the tournament.

Woods entered the 2013 Masters as the World Number One, brimming with confidence having won three out of his first five tournaments to start the year.

By Friday afternoon, Woods had cruised into a share of the lead, before crisply striking a wedge on the par-5 15th as he hunted for another birdie.

In a cruel twist of fate, Woods’ ball struck the pin and ricocheted back into the water. “Royally cheated!” shouted on-course announcer David Feherty. Nobody could argue otherwise.

A subsequent “bad drop” turned a probable birdie into a triple-bogey placing Woods behind the proverbial 8-ball for the rest of the tournament. The game’s ultimate closer should have been in the lead with two rounds to play on a front-runner’s paradise of a course; instead, he was in chase-mode. (From 1991-2012, 19 of the 22 winners came from the final group).

Woods tried to rally over the weekend, but if he didn’t think the 2013 Masters was ill-fated for himself by Friday evening, then he would have been excused to do so on the eighth hole on Saturday.

 

Had Woods’ golf ball missed the pin at 15 on that hot and humid Spring afternoon in 2013, then he not only wins, but he likely wins going away.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Power Leak No. 1: Your grip

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One of the things I like the best is when a friend or stranger asks me to take a look at their swing to see if I can help them. I never get into the “lesson” business, because that is the domain of our golf staff at the club. But I have spent a lifetime in this game, and have studied the golf swing pretty relentlessly. I also have been blessed with a pretty good eye.

So, the other day, I was out hitting some balls in the afternoon, and a good friend from the club asked if I’d take a look at where he is losing power. Darrell is a big guy and a good player, but not nearly as long as you would think he’d be. He plays with the “big dog” money game, which has a few really big hitters that can be quite intimidating.

I’ve played with Darrell enough to know exactly where his power leaks were, so when he came out to the range, I watched him hit a few and dropped the first one on him.

“It’s your grip!”

He, like so many amateur golfers, was holding the club too far out on the end, and much too high in his palms — not low in the fingers like you should. I’ve always been of the opinion that the grip is the most important fundamental in the entire golf swing. Without a solid and fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, the rest of the swing cannot function at its best. Hogan thought it was so important, he dedicated a whole chapter of “Five Lessons” to the subject.

You’ll see the occasional pretty good scorer at the club with a funky grip, but you never see a bad grip on tour. The golfer who has mastered a great grip is the most teachable there is.

In my opinion, the grip is only ‘personal’ to a small degree. Whether you like to overlap, interlock or use the full finger grip (not baseball)…whether you like to rotate your hands a little stronger or weaker . . . the fundamentals are the same, and they aren’t negotiable.

The club has to be in your fingers to allow the “lag” that builds power, and to allow or even force the optimum release of the club through impact. The last three fingers of the left hand have to control the club so that it can be pulled through the impact zone. The right hand hold is limited to the curling of the two middle fingers around the grip, and neither set of forefingers and thumbs should be engaged much at all. One of the best drills for any golfer is to hit balls with the right forefinger and thumb totally disengaged from the grip. Google “Hogan grip photos” and study them!!!!!!

So, with the changes in the grip I had Darrell make, he immediately began ripping drivers 15-20 yards further downrange than he had. The ball flight and even sound of the ball off the driver was more impressive. So we went out to play a few holes to see what happened.

Historically, Darrell is only 5-10 yards longer than me at best, and sometimes I outdrive him. But not anymore!! On those five holes we played late that afternoon, he consistently flew it out there 20-25 yards past my best drives.

And that made us both really happy!

Next Tuesday, I’ll talk about the second in this series on Power Leaks.

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On Spec

On Spec: Dr. Paul Wood, Ping Golf’s VP of Engineering

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Host Ryan Barath talks all things design and innovation with VP of Engineering at Ping Golf, Dr. Paul Wood.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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