Michelle L. Smith

Freelance Writer, Novelist, Humorist

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I swear i didn't hit that shot, it must have been my evil twin, gottagogolf.com, september 2011

She's the sister you wish you never had, the "Bad Seed" who'll do whatever it takes to get her way. Strangely enough, she's wearing the same black-on-white wing-tipped golf shoes that you wore today. She's got on that same plaid skort you bought off the sale rack at the pro shop, and she's even sporting a black visor adorned with Swarovski crystals like the one you snagged at your last Invitational.

Sis seems to be on the warpath these days, wreaking havoc with your golf game. Last round she put a hex on your 7-iron, causing you to excavate more dirt than the Flintstones ever saw. Round before that, your putter swung with the weight of a bowling ball. It seems there's no end to the mind games your evil twin sister has in store for you as she attempts to reverse any downward trend in your handicap.

When I took up golf I had no idea the biggest challenge would be mental. With head trips ranging from mere chatter to a paralyzing fear of those unquenchable oases of sand known as bunkers, it's a wonder that the 19th hole isn't equipped with security bars and straitjackets.

Take chatter, for instance-the whispering of purposeless sweet nothings that suddenly begins 1.5 seconds into your backswing. In my early days of learning the game, chatter originated behind my right ear as if emanating from a tiny devil perched atop my shoulder. Such nonsensical verbiage reliably occurred whenever a large body of water had come into play. With "You're gonna hit it in the water!" uttered three times in rapid succession before I completed my swing, you betcha that dang ball ended up wet.

Now, given that we females have certain preoccupations, it's inevitable that some chatter reflects our body images. How many of you have stood over your tee shot and thought, "My butt's as big as a double-wide mobile home, and everyone's staring at it"? Come on, admit it. You know who you are.

Do men have similar preoccupations? Are they harassed by the brother from another planet? Think about it-when's the last time you heard a guy duffer mumble something about his evil twin brother?

Truth be told, while some say "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus," my experience shows that men golfers suffer from head trips similar to those that torment us ladies. Recently I was playing in a foursome of women toward the end of Arizona's golf season, well after the "snowbirds" had flown back to the Midwest and Canada. It was late May (a little known secret time for primo Arizona golf), and the course was quiet. A male member of the golf staff joined us at the turn for a few holes.

After the four of us gals teed off on a challenging uphill par-4 and delivered some of our best drives of the day, our male companion stepped to the forward tees wielding a mere hybrid and bombed one up the fairway. Somewhat dissatisfied with his shot, he picked up his tee, turned to the group and said, "It felt weird having four women staring at my butt."

Fears reflect our insecurities and are powerful enough to transform a shallow ditch into a gorge the size of the Grand Canyon. They reinforce the notion that you don't have a club in your bag adequate enough to carry your ball to the other side of that ditch.

So what's a girl to do when faced with such swing-altering thoughts, or when her evil twin sister is about to rear her ugly head again?

For me, deep breathing slows my heart rate and invokes an immediate, albeit temporary, sense of calmness. I'm not talking all-out meditation here. You only need to tap into that deep breathing bit for about 10 seconds lest you lengthen pace of play. Don't be surprised, however, if that vixen reappears in the midst of your backswing and remarks that you're a lousy player, moments before you send your ball into a lake on a hole other than the one you are playing. And don't be shocked to see your evil twin settling into the passenger side of your golf cart with a smirk plastered on her face.

Just pick up your stick and try again. As is the case for reinforcing a proper golf swing, repetition is key. It's helped my chatter diminish to an occasional twitter. But if you're unable to rein in your nervous energy by taking slow deep breaths, when all else fails, try reminding yourself that golf is nothing more than a (mind) game.

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