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Golf with Deepak

Spirituality may be key to the game, as the guru says, but practice sure helps.

May 03, 2003|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

If Deepak Chopra had written the Bible, Moses' staff would have been a nine-iron and Jesus would have walked across a water hazard. According to Chopra's new book, the road to spiritual enlightenment is a well-manicured fairway.

For golfers seeking an excuse to skip church on Sundays, this is a major theological breakthrough.

"Golf for Enlightenment" is the 35th book by Chopra, the New Age guru whose resume of spiritual accomplishments includes an essay titled "Does God Have Orgasms?" and a $35-million libel lawsuit -- later settled out of court -- that he called "an act of love" designed to raise the magazine to "a higher state of awareness."

To find out more, I recently made a pilgrimage to Chopra headquarters in Carlsbad to play a few holes with the Lord of Links himself.

Dubbed "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine" by Time magazine, the 56-year-old physician boasts legions of devotees -- from Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton to Madonna and Michael Jackson. He's such a superstar, the story goes, that a London fan once interrupted him dining out with several companions and said, "I hope your friends don't mind, but could I get your autograph?" After obtaining the signature, the fan left and Chopra resumed talking with his friends -- George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Before teeing up in Carlsbad, I stepped into the lobby gift shop of Chopra's two-story training center, where the smell of smoldering incense wafts past Hindu statues, bottles of massage oil, "Eternal Om" CDs and boxes of Three Spices Sinus Complex tablets.

From there, it was a short walk to the clubhouse. Chopra, wearing charcoal slacks, a black polo shirt and a leather newsboy cap, arrived moments later aboard a gleaming golf cart.

Right away, it seemed like a mismatch. Although Chopra learned the sport just 14 months ago, he plays every day and uses custom clubs. I hadn't golfed in nine years and my so-called clubs, which I found at a garage sale, cost less than the box of golf balls I bought for the day.

If golf is a metaphor for one's spiritual health, I was in serious trouble. And maybe Chopra needed a soul tune-up too.

Golf, he writes, "has the ability to bring out the truth about a person almost immediately. I know of corporations that won't hire a CEO until he is taken out on the golf course to be observed, unbeknownst to him, by a psychologist.... In just one round you can find out how someone handles crisis, how they deal with others ... [and] what they really think of themselves."

If that's true, Chopra might not be the paragon of inner harmony and cosmic consciousness that followers of his best-selling books expect.

'I will soar with you'

In the gospel according to Chopra, there are seven commandments for the game of golf -- and life. The first is to become one with the ball. After placing the ball on the tee, Chopra silently talks to it. "I nourish my relationship with the ball by saying, 'You're part of me.... When you soar, I will soar with you.' "

I give Chopra's method a whirl, even though I feel like Tom Hanks chatting to his volleyball in "Cast Away."

Good morning, Mr. Ball. I want you to fly like an eagle, off the tee. Fly like an eagle, let your spirit carry me.

Unfortunately, my dimpled white companion either doesn't understand English or doesn't like the Steve Miller Band. On my first swing, the ball travels a mere 20 yards.

Chopra's ball, in contrast, is much more spiritually attuned. It sails heavenward toward the green. However, his next shot plunks into the water hazard. "Bad judgment," he says, shrugging. "It was a nice shot, but obviously I didn't choose the right club."

I don't laugh because I'm pretty sure my shot will meet a similar fate. But, apparently, my ball is more enlightened than I realized. When it hits the water, it skips across the surface and hops up onto the other side.

When we reach the green, both of us overshoot the cup a few times. Score: Chopra 6, Rivenburg 9.

Between holes, Chopra elaborates on his theories about golf and life, quoting assorted Hindu holy men and PGA pros. Unexpectedly, he drives our cart not like a master of meditation, but like someone in a high-speed police chase.

When I ask about being one with the ball, Chopra says people can become one with anything: "If you're in unity consciousness, the whole world is animated to you. You can talk to trees and stars. Everything is part of your body."

This theory about everything in the universe being one reminds me of a prediction comic Paul Krassner once made: "There will be a worldwide religious war between those who believe we are all one and those who don't."

It also raises an important strategy question: Is it possible to become one with your opponent and mess up his shots? "You wouldn't want to do that," Chopra says.

Actually, yes, I would.

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