ENCINITAS — Some golfers carry lucky charms or, like Tiger Woods, wear a favorite-colored shirt to improve their game. Dr. Ed Balian has a different approach.A few years ago he began contemplating what he could learn about golf if he were Buddha’s caddie. Balian shares his experience in an illustrated shot-by-shot account, while playing 18 holes of golf, in the book, “Buddha Plays 18.”Balian says even Tiger Woods could learn a thing or two from Buddha.
“Tiger’s got the physical skills, at the professional caliber, which is why he’s still doing so well,” Balian said. “But he’s lost the concentration.”
Balian explained that the problem in western culture is that players emphasize the physical moves, not so much the mental.
“The top golfers have it both,” he said. “This book provides help with visualization. It’s the mental picture that helps you create the right mechanics to get to the higher levels of golf.”
He underscored the fact that the book is meant to be a supplement, not a replacement, to traditional golf swing lessons from a PGA instructor.
“If you don’t have mental pictures you’ll say, ‘I’m real good on the driving range, but not on the course,’” he added.
Balian started playing golf at 13, using an empty can of tuna fish embedded into the ground behind his parents’ garage in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was the 1960s.
“Kids were playing baseball and football and they thought I was crazy,” he said. “Young people were steered away from golf because it was thought to be an old man’s game.”
Balian said he was inspired by legends including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nichols and Gary Player. He initially taught himself, later taking lessons from a PGA pro to hone his mechanical skills.
“I still needed to improve the mental side, but that’s very seldom taught,” he said.
He also became an avid reader of golf instruction books beginning with “Play It Pro” published by Wilson Sporting Goods.
“Now I have a massive collection of golf instruction books which is how I came about writing one myself,” he said.
Concurrently, Balian began collecting books about Buddhist philosophy after a Christian friend pointed out that many of his beliefs were tenets of Buddhism.
“One day I was looking at my bookshelf, with golf books on the one side and Buddhist ones on the other,” he said. “As I accumulated more, they started getting closer. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to combine Buddha with golf?’”
“Buddha Plays 18” has also become a primer for some nongolfers who want to learn about the principles of Buddhism.
“It’s how you look at day-to-day life, more philosophy than religion,” he said. “It’s more important how we choose to react than what actually happens to us. Something bad could actually be a superb opportunity for growth.”
Dr. Ron Lake is a psychologist and yoga teacher who was asked by Balian to edit the book for accuracy on Buddhist principles.
“Ed’s book on golf hits the nail on the head,” Lake said. “Both golf and Buddhism are essentially ‘lone/life pursuits’ — being in the moment, the ‘now.’ The Buddhist concepts of concentration, awareness, correct breathing, mental discipline, visualization — are all vital in golf and in life.”
Balian is also author of several academic books, and a lecturer in market research in the business department at Cal State San Marcos.
“Buddha Plays 18” is available at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course Pro Shop, amazon.com or buddhaplays18.com.