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Traditional golf advocate and ABS founder John Erickson found himself at the historic Lincoln Park Golf Course in San Francisco this week.   After a remarkable round, he took the time to recall the feelings, environment, and state of mind that combined for that rare suspension of consciousness that is sometimes referred to as “the zone“.  Here’s what he was up against.

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We often hear the term… and most of us have felt the game at some kind of a deeper level from time to time.

You get into some kind of flow of hitting one quality shot after another. Putts seem to go in, not lip out. The good break happens when you need it. Golf seems easier than usual regardless of your skill level. The “Zone” seems to happen when you are not consciously thinking about it. Sometimes as soon as you start thinking… “I’m playing great… I must be in the Zone” suddenly you are not in the Zone anymore and you find yourself switching from the birdie train to the bogey train.

I played today and thought it might be interesting to reflect upon as it was an unusual round. I haven’t played much golf recently, I think this was my second round this month. The last few times out have not been anything special as far as scoring for me… 72, 74, 73. My parents came out to SF for a visit this week, and I took dad out to Lincoln Park GC in San Francisco for a game. We teed off around 2PM with a cool stiff Pacific Ocean breeze whipping through the Pines and funneling through the Golden Gate Bridge. The course didn’t seem too busy, but oddly enough there were 3 groups going off the first tee. The starter asked us if we were ok teeing off on the back nine. Actually we would start on the 9th tee which is not far from the clubhouse.

Dad doesn’t see real well, so on a strange course, I had to basically caddy for him… aim and club all his shots and pay close attention to where the ball is going. My mind was probably more on his game than mine. He would hit first and then I would play my shot almost as an afterthought.

#9, #10, #11, just fairways and greens. Missed birdie putts from 20, 30, and 8 feet. The 12th is a long par 3 uphill and dead into the wind. I hit a five yard fade with a 2 wood 6 feet from the pin. Just one of those perfect shots, just as you saw and felt it in your mind. Made the putt. Not a hole you make a 2 on very often. Two more pars and then on #15 I hit 1 iron – wedge a foot from the hole for a kick in bird.

#16 and #17 might be the toughest back to back par 3′s on the planet. 239 and 240 yards respectively. Made a good 10 foot comeback putt for par on 16.

#17 is one of the great postcard holes in golf. From high up the cliffs, a sweeping view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a brutal three par down the hill to a postage stamp green. Tourists are everywhere taking pictures. Sometimes people are getting married there. It’s a public course, and it is not uncommon for pedestrians to be walking around oblivious to the golf. Two Japanese tourists asked if they could take my picture while I played my tee shot on 17. Sure, no problem. I smiled, pulled out my 62 Dyna Turfrider 1 iron and just ripped one up into the wind.. the ball drew toward the left side of the green but the wind off the bay pushed it back right and it landed on and rolled up 6 feet from the pin after traveling 240 yards down the hill. I have never made a 2 on this hole and didn’t want to think about the putt too much… so I just stepped up, took one look and hit the putt into the cup. Pretty amazing to make a 2 on that hole.

The 18th is another beautiful 4 par playing right back to the old while clubhouse which sits right behind the green. I waited as two bums crossed the fairway on their way to Golden Gate Park and hit one right down the center. It’s a very tight tee shot. The second is blind from the swale, and I hit an 8 iron nicely.. but while it was in the air, it seemed to loose steam and I figured it would be lucky to get on the front edge. When I arrived at the green it was sitting perfectly about 12 feet below the hole. My putt lacked the proper speed, but rolled right to the front right lip and then fell in for another birdie.

Now back on the front nine, the wind was really picking up even more and starting to get cold in the late afternoon.
While I am going back through this round in hindsight, at the time I was still focusing mostly on Dad’s game, and getting him aimed and clubbed correctly. I had no thought really of how I was playing or how many under par I was or that I had just shot 30 on the back nine. I hit more fairways and greens on the next six holes just playing good solid golf tee to green.

On the 7th hole, which was our 17th of the day, after a well struck 1 iron off the tee, I hit a wedge in about a foot from the hole for a kick in birdie. As we got to the tee on #8, our last hole of the day, we finally had to wait for the group in front of us having caught up with them. It’s a tough little 3 par down the hill to a small well bunkered green. Usually I hit a 6 iron, but today was downwind and cross from the left. When the group finally cleared the green, I pulled an 8 iron. Just before I was ready to hit, Dad mention that it seemed like I had really made a lot of birdies. It was the first time during the round I stopped to think about it. “Yeah, I guess you are right”, I thought back a bit, and realized I had not had a bogey either. Now thinking if I can birdie here it would be a 62 today. With that thought I really seemed to try a bit harder and hit a beautiful iron right at the pin, but this time it hit a hard spot right near the pin and kicked over the green.

I really had not had any kind of a bad bounce all day. I felt something change. The effortlessness was gone in some way because it was the first time during the round I was trying to do something. I hit what I thought was a good chip but the ball just grabbed as it was also dead into the wind, and left me a 10 foot putt. I really felt that I was going to miss the putt, spoil a bogey free round on the last.. and leave with just a slight bittersweet ending to the round. My best round there had been a 65 so either way it would be a personal best. I think once I had conceded defeat, I just stepped up to the putt and took a quick look, and with a firm grip and a little pop stroke, just focused on striking firm into the back of the ball. I was pretty shocked to see it track right into the cup. 63 and a new personal best at the historic Lincoln Park.

It really was one of those rare Zone days. Dad just missed shooting his age, and the pizza was great after the round as well.

Fun stuff.

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A swing sequence from 2011:

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