Q&A: Erik Anders Lang
Erik Anders Lang is generally the funniest guy on the course. And probably the most disheveled. T-shirt, flowered shorts, unruly curly hair tumbling out from beneath a backwards ball cap. Which might make you think that this podcast host, Adventures in Golf video star/auteur, Instagram celeb and documentary filmmaker is something of a golf iconoclast.
Well, you’d be right — that is, if your notion of golf includes the sanctity of perpetual propriety, maintaining hushed tones at all times, never using a goat for a caddie, and dressing like Mitt Romney. By dint of his dudely presence, his potty mouth, his willingness to flout certain golf conventions — and to push its boundaries — Lang is an iconoclast.
He filmed himself playing golf in the nude. He played “slum golf” in Mumbai (loser has to get the winner’s name tattooed on his arm). He brings his poodle-bichon-Maltese, Snowball, with him wherever he travels, and wherever he plays golf. (“He’s a little s-head, but I’ll be devastated when he leaves me. He doesn’t care if I play well or not.”)
His podcasts are freewheeling riffs on golf and life and his travels, and he can climb onto some pretty high horses, even as he makes you laugh out loud. He’ll film shows with the likes of Michelle Wie and Rick Shiels, but there’s little fawning over their immense talent. Instead, he’ll play putting-green h-o-r-s-e with Michelle and cajole Rick into a round of speed golf.
But watch or listen to Erik for long, and you realize that for all his irreverence, he is wholly reverent when it comes to appreciating the beauty and brotherhood of golf. And the place of golf in the Meaning of Life. His latest project is a documentary film called Be the Ball, which sounds like it might be a sendup of the Zen-ification of golf. It’s not.
What becomes clear in the previews — the film is in post production, no release date set yet — in his podcast, in his entertaining videos, is that Lang himself is deeply intrigued by the Zen approach to golf. In fact, the Zen principle of non attachment might be precisely why Lang has so much fun playing and portraying the game. He takes it seriously. But he doesn’t take it seriously. Which might sound like a Zen koan. But it serves as an apt introduction to the 37-year-old Lang, who only took up golf seven years ago, yet flashes a sweet swing and a 6-handicap. On that note, we put some questions to him.
FORE: Really? You only took up golf at 30?
Lang: Really. My brother, Christopher, got me into it. I fell in love with it immediately. I was obsessed and fascinated. And almost immediately started looking for a way to point a camera at it.
You were already into filmmaking by then?
Yes. I started by doing photography, working with David LaChapelle, then started making documentaries and music videos.
Do you wish you’d taken up golf earlier?
If I’d played as a young person, I might have been better, but I might have cared differently. People who learn golf later in life take the game in a different way. It answers questions you didn’t have as a young person. I might have missed the mystical value of golf.
“The mystical value of golf”— that reminds me: In one of your podcasts, you riffed on the value of impermanence. Did that come from studying Zen Buddhism? Or golf?
Golf was responsible for the Buddhist teachings in my life. Back in 2011, when golf was really capturing my curiosity, my brother sent me a copy of Dr. Joe Parent’s Zen Golf. I was immediately floored by how golf can be a way to learn stuff that people get from a lifetime in therapy or spiritual practice or meditation. It had all these wonderful teachings about being happier, being in the present moment. Golf is a way to disconnect from this really crazy world. Well, I called Dr. JOe, told him the book really changed my lie, and I went up to Ojai and learned how to meditate with him. Once, on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, we snuck out and played golf.
You strike me as irreverant but very respectful of the game. True?
Absolutely. Reverence comes from understanding that people experience golf in 20 million ways. If someone plays for the score, another to find friends, and another to make money; well, if I can’t find something in common with each person, then that’s on me. Understanding that means no matter what you do, you’ll be respectful of the game. How much trouble will I get in if I wear my hat backwards? They’ll freak out! But by doing that, I’m forging a connection with the person who finds rules ridiculous.
Can you imagine an Erik Anders Lang Golf Academy? What would that be like?
Seriously, I’ve been exploring the idea of a golf camp where all are welcome. The experience would be like a late-summer golf party. Get to know one another whether you wear a T-shirt or bring a dog to the course. It’d just be about enjoyment. And structured around ways golf can teach us things. Time to turn the phones off, not be around social media. To be real human beings.
So do you care about getting better at golf?
I don’t need to get better. I love birdies, chips, good drives. But I’d rather have the companionship of someone laughing at me after a bad shot than enjoy a great shot on my own.
Describe your approach to a typical round.
I show up and walk to the first tee. I did that recently at Oakmont. “You don’t want to hit any balls?” Nah. And then I popped the first shot. But the second, I drove right down the middle of the fairway. I do take lessons, and I would prescribe lessons to anyone. Because we don’t know what we’re doing. But I’m never going to play so well that someone’s actually going to care. That said, if it’s match play, I’m gonna get really serious real quick.
Do you ever not have fun?
Absolutely. Those times are quite fertile. If I only had fun, I wouldn’t understand club-throwers or dissatisfaction with the game. Not having fun is generally about not being able to control the golf ball. Then I’ll just connect with someone, or turn to filming.
Favorite SoCal courses?
My favorite is a little executive course [Roosevelt] in Griffith Park. As a former member of Wilshire CC, I love that course a lot, and The LACC is the best course in L.A., but I don’t like paying $200 as a guest. I like Wilson and Harding, and Goat Hill Park in Oceanside. But really, I’m not a big golf course expert guy.
You’re from the East Coast (New Jersey and New York). What do you like most about living in Southern California?
You can play year-round, obviously. I like the car culture, the views of canyons and mountains. L.A. is a place where people come to have dreams come true, even if you don’t know what the dream is. Golf? I definitely would have laughed. But sometimes people recognize me in the airport! No way. That’s crazy. To be recognized for something you care about. That’s cool.