Some thoughts on golf.

I just looked at the long-range forecast and it looks bad for my Sunday golf game. Too bad! But its wintertime and I have a back-up plan if I don’t get to play. Here’s something that I wrote a while ago, but I’ve never posted it, so here it is …

To keep my expectations low, I have been approaching golf as a beginner, because that’s what I really am; having to re-learn the game after my stroke nearly a year ago. As a golf instructor I’ve taught a lot of beginners, and so I remember how hard and frustrating the game can be. There’s a quote by Mac O’Grady that talks about the only antidote to the emotional humiliation the game brings is the antidote of humor, but I must confess I’ve never met a single golfer who has been able to find their poor play funny, or laugh in the face of the desperation you feel when you’re playing really, really badly. Most of a golfer’s humor when the game is going badly is self-deprecating. I believe self compassion is the only antidote.

The quote goes like this: “Golf is a frivolous comedy of errors. Anybody who has played the game long enough, especially on the competitive level, has learned that an unpredictable array of events may sabotage your emotional equilibrium at the most unwanted moment. The only immunity to destruction is to inoculate yourself with the antidote of humor. Humor balances the spirit, the mind, so that we may forget the unbelievable, the brutal, the bizarre, the atrocities and all those crazy events that adventuate from the womb of golf.”

There have been plenty of people who have simply thrown their clubs away and walked away from the game because of the emotional frustration. My father, Ralph, quit one day cold turkey when I was twelve, and never really played again. And I have a friend who used to play before work each day, and one day he put his clubs in the dumpster and never played again. Mark Twain said golf was a good walk spoiled, and in Ron Green, Jr.’s article after the British Open, he had a great quote about the game, about why anyone would choose the game after being slapped in the face over and over again.

I want to try to describe part of why I think golf is so frustrating. In most games, the ball is moving, and so you simply react. You don’t have time to think. But in golf, the situation is totally different: the ball is stationary. So you have really too much time to think and plan what’s going to happen. And you often end up playing your shot with your tension up in your head, thinking how to swing. This takes away most of your athleticism, and when you miss it poorly, you think, “how could I have done that! The ball was sitting still!” You can’t blame it on the ball as you can in other games, like with baseball when you can blame the pitcher, or in football when you can blame the other team’s defense. With golf, the ball is just sitting there waiting for your swing.

My most humiliating golfing experience of late came the day after Adam Scott’s defeat at Royal Lytham in St. Anne’s. I hit shot after shot after shot where my club went into the turf behind the ball. I was hitting at the ball rather than swinging through towards the target, a very common mistake amongst golfers. The harder I tried, the worse I did. And finally I had to call it a day and come back the next day. Happily, I was much better the next day.

When I tell people I’m a beginning golfer, they say, oh but you hit shots that a beginner couldn’t hit. This may be true, but I also hit bad shots that all beginners hit. But I’ve seen beginners improve and my hope is that if I keep at it I can keep getting better.