The Insanity of Golf
I play golf. Those of you who have seen me with a nine iron may differ, but I figure, if I hit the ball with the club, it counts as golf. What the ball does afterwards doesn’t matter … it’s still golf.
This particular form of insanity came to me late in life, in my early sixties. It’s either a blessing or a curse, or both, and my opinion about it pendulums back and forth, depending pretty much on my most recent outing. Here’s an example of golf insanity:
Last year I was watching Tiger in some tournament or other. He stepped up to his ball 120 yards out from the pin and effortlessly swung a pitching wedge. The ball floated up and up and up some more, seemed to pause at the top of its arc and then touched down a gimme away from the pin.
Nothing insane about that. Just Tiger doing his thing. Here’s the insane part: Earlier that week I had made exactly the same shot. Well … it wasn’t a pitching wedge, and I was a bit closer than 120 yards out, but the ball landed a gimme away from the pin, just like Tiger’s did. I had made the (almost) same shot as Tiger! I have potential! I can become a real golfer! I have it in me, if I practice, to get good at this game.
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Somehow, because I did something kinda-sorta-almost as well as Tiger, I felt good for hours. I know better. I know I can only make that shot one out of a hundred times, while Tiger misses it only one out of a hundred times. But I did it! And it made me feel good. I couldn’t wait to get out on the course again so I could, at long last, play the game that I knew I had in me. You know how that story ends … with a pitching wedge wrapped around a ball washer, or in the water at #12, accompanied by an angry string of expletives.
One skill you develop if you golf is a particular form of creativity. Even rank amateurs learn how to diagnose their golfing troubles in such a way as to preserve their egos. They — all right, we — learn quickly how to make excuses.
The number one excuse is equipment: “I gotta get a new five iron; this one always skulls the ball.” “Damn putter won’t hold the line.” “None of my clubs is right for this shot.” “I need a driver that doesn’t slice.”
Next in line is the course itself: “The sand in the bunkers is wet and heavy.” “The greens are too (pick one) fast or slow.” “The pin placement is dumb.” “The fairways are too rough.” And on and on.
Number three has to do with the environment: “Too much wind today.” “Man it’s hot/cold.” “The piano player in the house near the tee box distracted me.”
Number four is people … other people. “You coughed/sneezed/talked/farted/looked cross-eyed at the top of my backswing.” “You were standing in my peripheral vision.” “Stop breathing so loudly.”
The last resort, not an excuse at all, is humility. It happens when you realize that you are really the only true reason for a bad shot.
Something about golf is like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick, snatching it away at the last instant and humiliating poor Charlie, yet again. Charlie, like golfers everywhere, lives in eternal hope that, this time, it will end well … he’ll kick the ball, and we’ll finally have that perfect round. Charlie never kicks the ball, and the perfect round of golf never happens.
Remember the old, tongue-in-cheek definition of insanity? It’s also an apt definition of golf — doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.
Sadly, the perfect round of golf just never seems to happen.
But it might. If we keep at it, it just might. So Charlie keeps kicking and we keep golfing. We keep hoping. We know for sure that there is a great game within us, and we forever try for it.
Do you remember the defining scene in the movie “Tin Cup”? With all the marbles at stake, and an easy win clearly in sight, Kevin Costner’s character self destructs by repeatedly hitting the ball in the water, each time dropping another to try again, in the certain knowledge that he can make the shot. Eventually, he does make the shot but throws away the championship in the process.
If you saw that movie, you knew he was being stupid, yet something about his stupidity resonated with you. You understood the urge to get the shot right, even if it cost the tournament. You might not have done the same thing — nobody in his right mind would — yet you applauded him for his effort and applauded him doubly when he finally got the shot right.
I once wrote about the basic human urge to “be all you can be.” I think it explains why golf has such a magnetic attraction for those of us who subject ourselves to its random ways. There’s always the possibility of getting it right, and that possibility exists each and every time we swing a club. It’s seductive. It’s irresistible. And every now and then, it works, and we make a very good shot, maybe even a perfect shot. It happens more often for some of us than for others but we all have that experience. And we keep coming back for more.
I don’t want to overstate this … after all, it’s only golf, not life itself … but there’s something noble in the pursuit of excellence, and golf may be its purest form. So I laugh at myself, or curse my incompetence, or rejoice in the occasional great shot, but I keep at it.
Excellence is just a few divots away.
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