My Golf Lesson from the Mythical/Mystical Shivas Irons

I have never been interested in golf or played it, unless you want to count less than a dozen instances over 50 years where friends took me to play miniature golf.  So in 1971 when Psychic magazine asked me to do a review of Michael Murphy’s new book, Golf In The Kingdom, I was a little hesitant.  I didn’t really know anything about golf.  On the other hand, Michael Murphy was an old friend, and I knew the book would involve material about psychic matters, which I did know a lot about, so I agreed to review it.

Golf in the Kingdom tells the story of Michael Murphy, a young traveler who accidentally stumbles on a mystical golfing expert while in Scotland.  Even after a friendship lasting almost 50 years now, Michael doesn’t tell me how much of the book is autobiographical and how much it all just came to him as a story….whatever that means.

Murphy was inspired to write the book after his time at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India.  He had become interested in the similarities between descriptions of successful athletes when they were “in the zone,” and people who said they had achieved the state of Zen satori. The novel later inspired the Shivas Irons Society, an organization whose members combine golf and meditation (

As often happens, other tasks interfered and the deadline for the review was upon me.  Then I came down with a bad flu, and spent several days lying around aching and sweating and with a fever.  I had read the book, but had not thought at all about what I was going to say in my review.

That last night of my flu, it seemed as if I spent most of the night getting lessons from the mystical golf pro, Shivas Irons, who was the central character in Golf in the Kingdom.  Upon waking I had no idea what those lessons were about, although I think I understood them during the dreams, but felt I had been working hard all night to learn.

My fever was broken, though, so after some breakfast I picked up a clipboard and some paper and went into my living room to start writing a review.

To my amazement, there was a golf ball lying on the rug in the middle of the floor.

In the 34 years of my life to then, I had never owned a golf ball, nor ever seen one in my house.

Further, it wasn’t just any golf ball, because printed on it in large letters it said “Stanford Driving Range.”

I kept the ball for many years and would like to include a photo of it at this point, but in the course of several household moves it has long since been lost.  But I’ve made a sketch below of what it looked like.  The printed “Stanford driving range quote was quite prominent, solid black on white.

I first met Michael Murphy and the fall of 1963, when I went to Stanford for a postdoctoral fellowship in Ernest Hilgard’s hypnosis research laboratory.

A part of my mind always looks for normal explanations before thinking about the paranormal, so I tried to find one.  I had two young children, and I suppose it was possible that one of them had found the golf ball somewhere outside and brought it home.  But on that particular day and no other?  And the golf ball from the Stanford driving range?  I was living in Davis, California at the time, and Stanford University was over 100 miles away.  If it was hit there on a powerful drive, it was a very, very long drive!

Many people have written me over the years telling me about their unusual experiences, and, since I’m the professor, I’m supposed to explain things to them.  Sometimes I can, at least to the extent of telling them that other people have had similar experiences, and the frequency of that kind of experience is enough that we have a formal name for it, such as “telepathy” or “clairvoyance.”  As to why they had the experience, sometimes it seemed relatively obvious, given their life circumstances, other times I had no idea why it happened. So I’ve taken to thinking that sometimes unusual experiences occur simply to “rattle our cages,” as it were, to remind us that the world is a very big, mysterious, and interesting place, and we should not settle too snugly into our favorite explanations of the way things work.

Needless to say, the golf ball gave me a magnificent opening for my review!

Golf in the Kingdom was just out then, and no one could have anticipated that it would become a bestseller.   As of 2012, it has sold over a million copies and been translated into 19 languages.  And I’m the second person in the world, after Michael Murphy, to receive instruction from Shivas Irons?

There must be more to this that just providing me with a great introduction to a book review.  As to what that “more,” is – well maybe my cage needed rattling at that time…..    😉

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