The Art of Detachment

By: Billy Bondaruk


I once heard a wonderful story about the famed actor Sir Lawrence Olivier. He had been cast in the part of Hamlet at a famous theater in Oxford, England. Olivier was known for his dedication of studying a character such that he would become the character.

When the play ended on the opening night of his first performance he received a 20-minute ovation. One of his close friends came to see him in his dressing room right afterward and said, "Lawrence that was the most incredible performance we have ever seen." Olivia shot a reply back, "Well don't you think I know that?" pacing back and forth across the dressing room. His friend, perplexed by Lawrence's reaction, asked him "What's wrong; that performance was the most incredible interpretation of Hamlet ever received." Lawrence looked up from deep thought and said, "I know, but I don't know how I did it and I don't know how I will ever do it again."

When I think about this story and how it applies to an athlete in any sport I start to think about some of the things I've seen. Michael Jordan making five three-point baskets in a row and, looking into a TV camera with surprised dismay, shrugged his shoulders and threw his hands up. Tiger Woods was once asked how he hit a 6-iron out of the deep rough 220 yards uphill onto the 5th green at Pebble Beach during his U.S. Open. His reply "I don't remember, I never remember those shots."

What I'm describing is detachment: detachment from the outcome and an almost invincible ability to stay in the here now, without any distractions. When people describe it as being unconscious they're wrong. It is pure consciousness uninterrupted by thought. The big question is how you learn to get to a place we all refer to as "The Zone." What is it, really? A presence in the moment that is so grounded that no thought patterns can disturb it. That's why Tiger can't remember, because that part of his mind isn't working on the occasions when he hits such famous shots. The part of the mind we use for conscious thought, it's just not there. The part I refer to is also where your ego lives.

This non-thinking is what is described as magic when a player pulls off an impossible shot. I refer to it as non-thinking because that is the only place where your best performance can be manifested. Alive in every thought-filled desire is the potential for fulfillment. A desire for anything can manifest itself in some way when we lose our attachment to the outcome. Once a desire is borne in us, we let go of controlling it by staying in the here and now without thinking of the future outcome or traveling back to our past. We let go, we embrace the moment for its timelessness.

This is where true magic is in life and in golf. Losing your attachment to the outcome is remaining in the moment - the here and the now. You don't define the way you want the outcome to come about; you simply allow it to occur because it's unknown until it happens to you.

I was unaware of how some of golf's great players use this principal. Then I looked closer at what they'd say. Jack Nicklaus would visualize the shot. He said it would feel like a part of him would stand behind and watch as he went up to the ball to hit it. Could he have been describing detachment?

I saw Bruce Lietchzki on the Golf Channel where he hosted an episode of "Playing Lessons from the Pros." He stood behind the ball on one hole and vividly described how he saw the ball falling out of the sky as it traveled down the left side of the fairway and bounce off of a slope toward the center of the fairway. He started his approach to the ball and, as he took his stance and posture, said something to the effect that, "You may find this to be a little on the strange side," adding, "At about this point I feel like part of me leaves my body and watches from up above."

Now I believe that to be unattached to the outcome. There is a very selfless quality to both of these descriptions and a certain sense of hitting the ball into the unknown. This is what we all love about this game: when we find this place where it's just fun to be, there's nothing else in the way. Not your past, future or mind. It's just the timeless part of you, the part that wants to play. The Tour pros just tap into it like little kids. Have you ever watched small children play? They're always in the zone.

"If you had the faith of a mustard seed you could move mountains." And "You must be like a small child to enter into the kingdom of heaven." Jesus Christ.

"Inherent in the desire lives the mechanics for its fulfillment." Deepak Chopra.

The athletes who play golf well possess a quality of stillness that can be found in these quotes.

Bill Bondaruk is a PGA Class A member and the director of instruction at Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln, Calif. He was named the 2006 Northern California Teacher of the Year. Billy learned the principals of golf by such legendary luminaries as Eddie Merrins, Jerry Barber, Paul Runyan, Mike Austin, Ben Doyle, Mac O'Grady, Jim McLean, Mike Labauve, Scott Sackett and his father.

Bondaruk started playing golf and caddying at age 7 at Franklin Park Golf Course in Boston. He played for the University of Massachusetts golf team while pursuing studies in Biomechanics. He took his game to the upper levels at age 24. He's played in over 100 tournaments on various mini tours, including the Hogan Tour in 1990. He was a Benson & Hedges Tour member in Mexico 1992-93, and was a second stage qualifier for the PGA Tour in 1995.

His playing highlights: two-time winner on the NGA Tour, 1985 Arizona; two-time winner on the Sun Belt Tour 1989, Phoenix; winner of the North Atlantic Tour 1991, Massachusetts; winner of the Northern California Section Apprentice Championship 1995; runner-up in the Western States Apprentice Championship 1993, Palm Desert Calif., and Mass State Open in 1996.

After traveling on the mini tours, Bill began teaching at a few world-renowned golf schools such as John Jacobs, Jim McLean, and Scott Sackett's Resort Golf.

He came to Catta Verdera by way of Tucson, where he was the Director of Instruction at Arizona National, Canoa Hills, San Ignacio Golf Club and worked as an instructor for the University of Arizona men's and women's golf teams. Among the Tour pros, sports celebrities and collegiate stars he's worked with are Glen Day, Lorena Ochoa, Natalie Gulbis, Ricky Barnes and Scott McCarran.

Billy's book, "The 7 Myths of Golf," is a video-enhanced web-based learning system, complete with e-lesson capability. The "The 7 Myths of Golf" (visit http://www.7mythsofgolf.com) has grown in popularity as it features videos of Tour pros. He is currently a feature writer for PGA.com's "Improve your Game" section and writes for the Press Tribune of Lincoln, Roseville and Grant Bay.

With his background in Biomechanics, Bill is leading the way on how best to teach and learn golf. Above all, he promises to bring joy and enthusiasm to your game.

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