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.”
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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