Whistling Straits Golf Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, played host to the 2004 PGA Championship. The signature holes of this intimidating and beautiful dunes course, built on the shores of Lake Michigan, were holes 15-18. They were reputed to be “the four hardest finishing holes in Major Championship history.”
I was fortunate enough to qualify for the event that year as a club professional from Illinois and as I walked off the 14th green in round two, facing those final four monsters, I had to par all of them to make the cut! In the five other majors in which I had competed, I had never made the cut. But this time was different, because this time—I was in “The Zone.”
For those four holes, and indeed for the entire day, I surrendered any attachment to my goal of making the cut and simply lost myself in the flow of the moment. I let go of controlling my swing, obsessing about my score and grinding over every shot—my normal way of playing golf—and instead, I allowed golf to be effortlessly played through me.
Any concern over success or failure and any feelings of fear and doubt simply dissolved and what emerged was the joy of being and my pure potential. Not only did I par those final four holes to make the cut, but earlier in the day, I hit a 297 yard three wood to within six feet of the hole for an eagle on a par 5! It was truly one of the best shots of my entire life.
But the next day it was gone. I couldn’t get in the flow again. I couldn’t find “The Zone.” I went back to playing as I had in the past: grinding, doubting and trying as hard as I could—as if life depended on it—and my score reflected it. I shot 74-79 and finished near the bottom of the field. What had happened? How could one day be such bliss and the next be so bad?
Whether you are a golfer or not, you have experienced what I’m talking about. For a short period of time, and for some unknown reason, some aspect of your life flows effortlessly. Maybe it’s for a stretch of holes where you just can’t miss, maybe it’s a day in your career when every deal or decision turns out great, or maybe you and your partner are connecting in a way you never thought was possible.
No matter what area of life it is, “The Zone” feels like we’re on an effortless, peak performance roll. But then for no apparent reason, it vanishes and we’re back to struggling with life the way we usually do. Obviously, we’d all like to get in “The Zone” and stay there. Since that tournament nearly five years ago, I have put my full attention on understanding “The Zone,” and I want to briefly share with you what I’ve learned.
States and Stages
The first thing I discovered about “The Zone” is that it is both a state and a stage of consciousness or performance. What I experienced in the PGA Championship was a state of consciousness, meaning, it was a temporary peak performance experience. States, by definition, don’t last, but if they’re entered into consistently over an extended period of time, they become one’s stage of consciousness or performance. Let me give you an example.
If I give you a golf lesson, I can get you into “The Zone,” a state of temporary peak performance. You may be a 20 handicap (your stage), but during our lesson, you will hit it like an 8 (a state). If, however, you diligently practice what I taught you consistently over time, maybe for years, that state of performance that you experienced in our lesson will become your new stage of performance. In other words, you will be an 8 handicap.
Here’s the crucial point. “The Zone” is the third and highest stage of human consciousness and potential. If you want to live life consistently in stage three, “The Zone,” whether it’s in golf, business or life in general, you must evolve through each of the two proceeding stages by engaging in a few essential transformational practices.