Tiger Woods’ golf game went to pot all over his inability to do something that seems relatively simple. Chip shots are bread and butter to golfers, but they have an annoying feature: they seem simple, but are annoyingly difficult. The ball has to only travel a short way, but it often goes too far or not far enough. You’re so near, yet so far. Tempo is key: not too much swing, but also don’t decelerate. Swing fully, even though the distance to be covered is short. It’s often the weakest part of many golfer’s game, but, if mastered, can help reduce a golfer’s score dramatically. So, I try to practice this shot often. I spend time almost every day in my garden, just doing this shot. But, as seen, even the best in the world can be undone by it.

Tiger Woods has apparently been doing lots of practice and news reports yesterday told us that things were going well. His jet was seen near the Augusta Masters course, and we later heard that he played 18 holes in practice. But, as a noted analyst told us on the Golf Channel, when you get on the course in a real tournament, a bell goes off in your head and all that good stuff at home goes out of the window. Been there, done that.

One devilish feature of golf and hitting good shots is doing something seemingly simple: keeping your head still and your eyes on the ball. It’s not a cliché. If these things don’t happen, you see the result in mishit shots, and then have to absorb the mental anguish of wasted opportunities and a worse score.

I never thought about it before, but when I was practising this morning, it made me think about government. Why? I kept my head down and my eyes on the ball and my chip shots were quite good. I worked on some other things, but knew that the little movement of the head, or attempt to lift the eyes too early were the roots of my problems.

In a renowned series of episodes of ‘The Haney Project’, Hank Haney, one-time swing coach for Tiger Woods, was working with basketball great, Charles Barkley. Mr. Barkley could hit a ball quite well and far, but had a basic problem that sometimes he could not hit the ball at all. His ‘hitch’ was the butt of many jokes, especially with his golf partners, many of whom were the trash-talking, high achieving kind. The following video montage is not easy viewing, so squeamish people may want to turn away.

After some analysis, Mr. Haney realised that moving his head was Mr. Barkley’s main problem. In several episodes, we saw Mr. Haney hold Mr. Barkley’s head still. When he did that, the swing was completed smoothly and the ball was struck consistently. When he let go of the head, Mr. Barkley ‘got stuck’–literally–and could not complete his swing.

The metaphorical connection of keeping your head down and not taking your eyes off the ball are easy to understand when looked at in abstract, or actually. But, could it be so simple?

My daughter’s dog is my regular golf partner. What I noticed about the dog is that he cannot keep his head still or keep his eyes on the ball. If I practice a swing, the dog moves in anticipation of the hit and runs off, so does not see when I hit the ball and then cannot track where it went. He moves too early. He anticipates. That’s what happens to golfers, as we try to sneak a peek at where out shots are going. I also noticed that if the ball hits a few objects, the dog cannot track how the ball moves and its various directions. I can see and track it well, so end up finding it myself, while the dog is still looking in the area of the first contact.

Many government and public officials in Jamaica remind me of Charles Barkley’s hitch and my dog. They know what to do, but get stuck in the process. They take their eyes off the ball, and then lose sight of what it is they were supposed to be doing. Is it just a matter of someone holding their heads, or teaching them how to focus on what is in front of them? Is that the same as having good management and leadership? You tell me.

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