Why do we play this game?

Is a question I sometimes ask myself… I played at Seafield a couple of weeks ago and it literally started snowing on the 16th which is an exposed hillside hole. I was dressed fairly appropriately but still it was not a pleasant experience.

Why do we put ourselves through all the pain that comes with the pursuit of golf? Sometimes I really question it – not only did I choose to be out that January morning hitting a wee white ball up and down hills and over dunes, I paid money for the privilege! On a previous visit to Seafield in November last year, another day of horrible weather, a Facebook friend commented on my status update “are you actually mental?”. (Obviously said friend is not a fellow golfer.)

So what exactly is it that compels us to venture out in weather which most people wouldn’t even walk to the shops in? (To be fair, it is not only the cold, crappy stuff that we brave, there were a couple of times I played in Japan at the height of summer – 30°+, near 100% humidity – the kind of weather you just want to hide in an air conditioned space inside somewhere.)

And it’s not only the conditions we brave, the game itself can be pretty bloody brutal. How often have you totally mishit a shot and thought to yourself “Why am I doing this to myself? Sport is supposed to be fun…” (I do this a lot but it is gradually getting less frequent.)

Well, I don’t think there is any secret to it. The good stuff far outweighs the crap! We play golf for that feeling when you sink a 20 foot putt to save par. For that drive you catch just right that flies off the tee, fading just nicely to come down in the middle of the fairway 250 yards away. For that chip from just off the green that trundles towards the flag and duly drops into the cup. For that full swing short iron approach shot from 100 yards away that lands here:

When you think about it, golf is pretty absurd. We are using some stick like implements to whack a wee white ball hundreds of yards over some very mixed terrain – to put it into a 4 1/2 inch wide hole. It should be difficult, it is a ridiculous task. So, when we catch the ball just so and it does exactly what we want it to do, it is truly a rewarding feeling.

It must be awesome to be Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer or any of the top golfers. They are hitting the ball the way they want to the vast majority of the time. (Of course they skank shots from time to time like any human being but most of their shots are largely as they intend them.) Think about how good you felt the last time you played a cracking drive – well Rory feels like that all the time (see previous qualifier).

It’s a bit of a cliché but golf really is a test of the character. To deal with all the frustration that comes our way when playing the game is certainly a trying experience. There have been books and books written about the mental side of the game so I am just going to scratch the very surface in this brief post. I do really think that if you can handle playing golf without losing the heid you are in a pretty good position to deal with some of the shit that life throws at you.

A couple of things occur to me as I write this.

Last year I went to play a round at Troon Fullarton – the shortest and easiest course of the three municipal courses there (I will write a review of it soon enough). I was playing alone and I strode out to the 1st tee at almost exactly the same time as another visiting single ball. It seemed the natural thing to do so we played together. He was called Andy and was a retired company director from Worcestershire who was visiting Scotland with his wife and managing to sneak a few rounds in!

I have heard it said many times elsewhere but Andy made the remark that if you are thinking about doing business with someone, the best thing to do is play a round of golf with them before doing so. What he meant was that playing golf gives a good insight into the character of a person. After all, you are not going to enter a commercial relationship with someone who rants and raves and curses just because this wee ball he’s hitting doesn’t do what he wants it to do, are you?

I think it is important to have a selective memory to enjoy golf. You need to forget instantly the anger and frustration you feel when you slice yet another tee shot off into the trees. By the time you have returned the club to the bag you need to take a deep breath and let that emotion go. “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” a far wiser man and better golfer than me famously once said.

At the same time, we need to remember the joy when you do hit a shot well. That emotion we need to keep as it will fuel us to keep going.

So, forget the pain and remember the joy and you will enjoy your golf! That’s why we play this game.

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