Everything I Know About Life I Learned from Playing Golf
As a kid, I must admit, I hated the game of golf. It seemed to me to represent the height of pretension, the type of self-centered jackassedness best embodied by Ted Knight in the seminal classic Caddyshack, and so I eschewed playing the sport until well into my teenage years. It was around that time that my grandfather had me come play with him at one the local courses where he lived in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That certainly did not help. The game was challenging and frustrating. I sucked at it. And that pretty much summed up my golfing experience until I was well into my adult years.
And then I met a woman. Doesn’t it always come down to that? In this case, my ex-wife to be specific. A Colorado native, she had hardly ever skied before she met me, and I tried to talk her into letting me teach her how to ski. In return, she wanted me to take up golf. So we came up with a compromise right before the snow started falling in November of that year- I would play golf with her the next Summer as many times as she went skiing with me that Winter. As it turns out, she skied twenty-five days that Winter. Needless to say, my life has never been the same since.
Which is not to say, by the way, that I’ve gotten any good at the game. It’s just as perplexing and frustrating to me as it ever was, but I have learned to embrace my suckiness because that itself is the first of many things golf has taught me: humility. I have hit golf shots so bad that I made a group of Asian women scream and duck their heads lest they be tagged upside the head by one of my errant projectiles. And yet I have persevered. I have come back to play time and time again. I get better for a period and then fall back into old bad patterns that I seemingly cannot extricate myself from. And isn’t that just like life? But through my continued efforts, I get a little better each and every day, and I learn to be ok with the progression of where I stand today rather than feeling inadequate for not getting to where I would like to be because, after all, life is about the journey not the destination, right?
And so I present to you other life lessons I have gleaned from the game of golf….
Patience: Ever spent the day trying to hit a little white ball towards and eventually into an equally small cup? Yes, it can be frustrating as hell, but it can also be remarkably rewarding, but you have to be patient. Patient with yourself in taking the time to prepare adequately for each shot. Patient with the game and the course as each delivers endless obstacles which you must overcome. And patience with that foursome in front of you who is playing so unbelievably slow.
Focus: Part of what makes golf so difficult and yet so rewarding is that it requires such diligent focus in order to skillfully hit a little white ball in exactly the way you want to hit it. Unlike so many other sports, golf is so profoundly mental in nature. Each hole is a problem to be solved and each stroke requires all of your mental energy in order to execute the shot with the precise physical mechanics that will render the result you have visualized going into it. Get caught daydreaming about your ex-girlfriend and watch your ball slice right through someone’s kitchen window, which, of course, brings us right back to that old lesson of humility.
Integrity: My students and my children can recite back to you verbatim my definition for integrity. “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” Well, in golf, unless you someday find yourself playing on the PGA tour, it is often the case that no one is watching. Players keep their own score, and in all my years of playing, I have never seen anyone question them on it. If your ball falls into a precarious lie, it is easy to walk up to and nudge it with your foot until it meets a position more to your liking, but of course, that’s cheating. Yes, you can get away with it, but isn’t that the point precisely? I once had a student write their college essay about losing a high school golf tournament because they refused to fudge the rules a bit while playing against someone they knew had. And that, my friends, is the essence of what integrity is all about.
And finally, friendship: I have had rounds of golf where I played well (ok, “well” here being a relative term to say the least), and I have rounds where I was absolutely horrible (and here the term is not so relative). But in the end, I find that when playing with people whose company I genuinely appreciate, I always enjoy myself nonetheless. Golf is as much about the social experience, the camaraderie, as it is anything else. It is the one sport where you can drink beer and shoot the shit with your friends while you play. Ok, I guess bowling falls into that domain as well, but does anyone really consider bowling a sport? After every round I play, it reminds me that what keeps me coming back is not the sport itself, but rather the people I enjoying playing it with. And that itself is a lesson we could all use just a bit more of.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com