As far as Jerry Brown is concerned, there’s a great inner golfer inside every able-bodied human on earth. All we have to do is get out of the way and let him or her through, smiling and relaxed and ready to enjoy the game without giving all those pesky swing mechanics and repetitive drills and Trackman numbers a second thought. Or even a first thought.
A soft-spoken New York native and former insurance agent who now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Brown could be called the “anti-teacher.” His new self-published book, Awaken Your Inner Golfer: Finding Your Flow (available at www.keepitsimplegolf.com), includes 40 “exercises” that open the door to self-learning: To tapping into one’s innate athletic ability via kinesthetics — the oft-referenced but less-understood “mind-body connection.”
“I want to make golf more joyful for people,” he said during a phone interview from his home in the high desert. “That’s one of the big incentives for me.”
A glance at some of his exercises show what Brown is getting at. After spending the first part of his brief and easy-to-read book in a more traditional teaching realm — making sure readers have their all-important grip and posture fundamentals down — he gets down to the blissful business of relying on instinct and creativity, on the right brain, to find one’s “flow.” In one exercise he asks you to imagine tossing a bag of trash into a dumpster; in another he directs you to move the hips in a figure-eight motion, “allowing your body to respond to the movement.”
It’s freeing, fun stuff, the result of five decades of golf exploration on Brown’s part.
His bio states that he “grew up hitting golf balls on a narrow strip of land in his grandmother’s yard on Long Island, New York, with trees on one side and a road on the other. By age ten he had learned how to hit a ball straight and solidly through feel rather than strength.”
Brown was what one would call a natural athlete, but at age twelve he broke a leg while skiing and was soon diagnosed with other health issues. But he wasn’t about to give up golf.
Qualifying for his college golf team as a senior, he played among a group of highly ranked Division II athletes, including a future PGA Tour winner. For the next 30 years he played competitive golf in the New York metropolitan area until the late 1980s, while facing yet other serious medical challenges, from partial loss of hearing to vision problems. He refined a series of exercises to maintain his golf game.
In 2012, he moved to New Mexico, where he combined his practice of golf with a growing interest in Eastern philosophy and spiritual lessons, incorporating an “inner” approach to developing a pure golf swing. His love of coaching led him to this, which he hopes will improve golfers’ games and inspire them in all walks of life.
GT: Most golfers play their best when they’re not thinking. What was the light bulb moment for you as a golfer to take a path toward instinctual play?
Brown: Physically I couldn’t play golf the way I used to in my 20s and early 30s. I developed these exercises for more play and fun. I invited a friend to explore them. He said, “I never felt like that hitting a golf ball … you’re onto something.” A few times I would fool around the putting green. I’d ask people to look at the hole while they chipped. The first two times they chipped in. I decided, “Yes, I am onto something.”
GT: So it worked for your friends, leading you to look into the instinctual side of learning, into Eastern philosophy.
Brown: You’re right on. My journey in health, turning to holistic wellness instead of medicine, had a lot to do with it. Wellness has an approach to empower the individual to get in touch with their innate healing abilities rather than medicine tending to treat symptoms. I felt a lot of golf instruction treats symptoms rather than stimulating one’s instinctual abilities. So my journey through health led to my present approach to awakening instinct.
GT: You talk a lot about grip and posture in your book. The grip is the only connection between the person and the club, while posture is the only connection between a person and the space around them. How did those figure so prominently in your approach?
Brown: I’ve been a student of golf for over 50 years, and I’ve seen so many people exerting effort trying to swing the golf club, rather than using it as it’s designed, to swing the weight of the golf club. I can see from a distance that they have the grip in the palm of their [left] hand, which doesn’t allow them to leverage the weight of the club — letting the wrist and hands function as they are anatomically designed. So many people think it’s their swing, but it’s their grip. They don’t have a chance without an effective grip.
A lot of golf instruction treats symptoms rather than stimulating one’s instinctual abilities.
GT: So assuming they fix the grip, why does the game remain such a struggle for most of us? Even the highest level pros, when they get under stressful situations, you can see them fighting their swings, fighting the left side of their brains, trying to analyze their way out of an issue.
Brown: Society teaches us to be analytical, left brain-oriented. To minimize the right brain, creativity, the arts. It’s in our education system, which teaches us to pass tests rather than expressing intrinsic knowledge.
I have a quote by Einstein: “Learning is experience, everything else is just information.” You learn by doing things. That’s how children learn to walk. It’s actually playful for them to fall down and adapt. That can be a big part of people improving and enjoying their golf game.
I’m just rereading a book by Stuart Brown called Play. He calls play a biological need, how we develop our brains. It’s intriguing to me, and has had some influence, along with many other books that support this same approach to learning by experience. Our education system focuses primarily on the brain, but how we learn is how we move our bodies — the body-mind connection.
GT: What is it about golf that lends itself to this type of exploration? It’s an individual pursuit. Why do people become so obsessed with it?
Brown: A big part of it is, in golf we’re starting in a static position. That unfortunately stimulates our analytical way of thinking, but our motor skills are generated by our subconscious. Most every other sport, except for maybe archery, is a reactive sport, so you’re reacting from a subconscious instinct. In golf, the static start leads people to start trying to direct their muscles to perform the golf swing. As long as they start with the basics, grip and posture, they have the instinctual ability to make pure impact, if they can trust it. That’s a big part of what my exercises are about — to facilitate people trusting their innate instinctive kinesthetic intelligence.
GT: Describe a couple of the exercises from the book that might lead people to believe, “This has nothing to do with golf.”
I’ve seen so many people exerting effort trying to swing the golf club, rather than using it as it’s designed, to swing the weight of the golf club.
Brown: Most are for shots of 50 to 100 yards, because when we try to change motor movements at full speed, our brains don’t have time to process it. But with a shorter shot, the brain does. One that is always effective is what I call the crossover exercise. Start with a closed stance and the ball opposite the left foot — so with this exercise, after impact, allow your right leg to swing and step over the target line. It encourages a natural rotation of the body without “trying” to rotate.
Another one is a pre-swing exercise: Visualize you’re carrying a small bag of garbage in your right hand and behind your right buttocks, and imagine you are swinging the bag around to toss it into the dumpster. Nothing to do with a golf swing, but everything to do with it. Your instincts take over: you know how to rotate through the golf ball — it’s like tossing the trash.
Another one that I love: Have a paint brush in your right hand, and imagine there’s a wall floor to ceiling about six feet to your right, as you’re addressing an imaginary ball. Dip the brush in paint and splatter the wall to your right, ceiling to floor, in one motion, and repeat a few times. Nothing to do with a swing, but actually that’s your forward swing. It encourages “lag” without trying to implement it. It engages your instincts.
GT: You can’t consciously engage in lag.
GT: Are you seeing in “traditional” instruction, any of these ideas come through? For instance, in one video Jason Dufner, he institutes something similar to your crossover exercise to get that feeling of hitting the inner quadrant of the ball, how the club just naturally gets on the right path in the downswing.
Brown: The only place I have seen a somewhat similar approach is in pre-swing activities. I noticed one teacher on the Golf Channel demonstrating not exactly the same things in my book, but something similar. He’s awakening instinct, similar to my approach. That’s the only place I’ve seen something.
Traditional instruction, because of technology, computers and cameras and lasers, they all bring a focus more to positions and mechanics, and we forget about our instincts. They are playing to what society teaches us — try to get the body to do this or that. It appeals to left-brain oriented people.
GT: Some old school teachers get their students out on the course, playing the game rather than doing drills on the range.
Brown: I was out with a friend yesterday, chipping and putting, and I said, “let’s see if this feeling of pure impact on these short shots, you can carry over to the longer shots. He was able to do it several times, but not all of the time, because I could see he was in his analytical brain. So I said, “You know what, next time let’s just go out and play and see what happens.” That’s how you learn.
The Zone is getting past your limitations, which are often conditioned by society — mostly unconsciously.
GT: So there’s the oft-used phrase “The Zone.” How does your theory, the principles in your book, how do they relate to what people think of as The Zone?
Brown: The exercises help quiet the mind and engage the body. The only focus through your swing is to feel the palm of your right hand turn toward the ground after impact. Bingo — you’ll never slice again if you can feel that. So my focus is on feeling parts of the body; it quiets the mind. When we are in our subconscious, it encourages what I call the “flow,” or zone. That’s when the new, the possible, the potential can express itself, rather than the left brain, the conscious brain, taking over. When we can access the subconscious, we can get in the flow. Even in basketball or football — when Joe Namath won the Super Bowl, he said he didn’t feel like he was playing the game. “The game was playing me. I wasn’t trying to do anything, I just responded instinctively.”
GT: You can tell when someone is at their best, playing in that state. Nobody was better at it than Jack Nicklaus. Tiger would get there at his best, especially on the putting green. He and Jack were the two great visualizers in the game.
Brown: I picture all those putts Tiger made at Bay Hill, and during the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He’s so deep into his instinct, it’s like he’s controlling the ball with his subconscious mind.
I don’t know if the public is ready for this, but Tiger makes me think about it: When you get deep in your subconscious, are you connecting with an energy, an intelligence, that is beyond our humanness?
GT: That could carry over to just about any artistic endeavor you can think of. Ask any musical composer, any poet, from Bob Dylan right on down the line. They have no idea where this stuff comes from.
Brown: That’s similar to responses I’ve gotten from people doing these exercises. “What was that? What did that exercise do?” My standard answer is, “It awakens instinct. You’re just tapping into your potential; you have the ability. The Zone is getting past your limitations, which are often conditioned by society — mostly unconsciously.
GT: You have said there are further books you want to write. What will be the gist of those?
Brown: One thing I think would be popular and productive and rewarding, is I have a lot of slice fix drills. Like the palm of the right hand turning toward the ground. I have a bunch that develop instinctually. The crossover exercise is anti-slice. I have one in the book about how to have a split grip, with both thumbs wrapped on the sides of the grip. Hit some 50 or 100-yard shots. It’s amazing. That’s what it feels like to release the club through impact. If someone can embody that, they’ll never slice again. An anti-slice book would be effective, because that’s what most people do.
GT: It could even help people with certain physical limitations that keep them from making a complete shoulder turn, help them get around that.
Brown: I like to call them exercises rather than drills, because drills gives the indication of forcing something in, while exercising is manifesting something you already have. Drills play to “trying,” while exercises allow your genius to express itself. And learning by experience tends to have more permanence; once you experience something in your body and mind, it tends to become more permanent.
GT: That would be a great title for the next book: Trying vs. Allowing.
Brown: Maybe that’s it! I’ll write that down. One more quote by Aristotle: “What we learn to do, we learn by doing.” I can’t do any better than that.