Golf is a physics puzzle. The rest of it is mental. Sports psychology seeks to figure out how the mind works, but the game itself is a mystery. I already know my mind is not suited for golf mastery. Unless one is brilliant, it’s useless trying to figure out golf. Phil Mickelson says that to be a great player, “You have to be very, very smart or very dumb.” Personally, I would rather be simple, happy and good than sort of smart, miserable and baffled, speculating when I might hit my next fairway. I wonder if Albert Einstein could play? Where does world number one, Dustin Johnson, fit on the intelligence meter? He seems happy and, man, can he play.
Golf is a microscope. It looks beneath the skin and peers into the soul. It examines, exposes and then dissects character. The game, much more than one of just a ball and stick, coaxes us back tauntingly, regardless of score. One of her grand secrets is the detachment from outcome, if this is humanly possible. Greater joy seems to come to those who play for the sake of it. Heed the microscope that never turns a blind eye, as the walk matters more than the math.
Golf is the sea. It can be angry or calm, and it always has a current. A player hanging loose and riding high on the crest of a wave will always outperform those who play scared. Tightness, fear and self-doubt beget bogeys, or worse. Taken in perspective, anger has no place in the game. Not a single person, other than yourself, cares a whit about your swing, your game or your score. So why should you care so much to get angry or disappointed when freedom from expectation will eliminate emotional setback.
Golf is the Harvard School of Law. We are a nation of laws; we play by a game of rules. The rules of golf contain more basic rules (34) than the US Constitution has in the Bill of Rights (10) and amendments (17) combined. One needs to be a scholar to come close to knowing the rules of golf in their entirety. The Decisions on the Rules of Golf contain over 580 pages detailing every possible bounce of the ball. The best way to begin to gain an understanding of the Rules of Golf is to read and digest the Definitions. They are challenging enough when you simply delve into the various forms of play. In match play there is single, threesome, foursome, best-ball and four-ball. In stroke or medal play there is individual, foursome and four-ball. If you really want to bore yourself, read the rest of the rules.
Golf is a Tale of Two Cities. It can be the best of times or the worst of times. At one’s best, a player is committed, focused and trusting. The performance zone looms large for those willing to let it go fearlessly. In this state the game is easy, fun and void of fear. It can also be played well by getting out of your own way without overthinking. Player B always makes the mulligan putt after missing the first. This is because the importance and meaning of the stroke is removed and the knowing part of the brain just aims, shoots and scores. Player A tries too hard. At one’s worst, a player is mechanical, stiff and negative. His/her self talk is the primary villain that sets the stage for disaster: “Don’t chunk it again. Don’t hit it left. I’m such a hack, etc.”
Golf is a fish story. Inflated and deflated handicaps are like the tale of the big one that got away. The guy who posts high scores for tournament advantage should be thrown overboard in a Speedo with a fist full of mackerels. The vanity handicap guy who posts low scores needs to see a shrink and talk about his ego. He is easy to spot on the course. He finally pipes a drive and then poses and watches the ball until well after it stops. The same guy will turn away in disgust when he flares one into the weeds, won’t hit a provisional, gets there first and finds it. He is a master of the pant-leg drop. The third handicap abuser is the ghost. He simply never posts because he likes his handicap right where it is. He usually can’t play to it, however. Golf is a game of integrity, the only sport that allows for players to call infractions on themselves. Fortunately, handicap sharks are in the minority.
Golf is a lesson with Miss Manners: “You trampled my line, elephant boy!” This player is looking for a reason to miss. How about the guy who takes the tee and his driver becomes a microphone? “Yak, Yak, Yak.” Two guys in a group like this make for a five- and-a-half hour round. He needs a selfie stick and a facebook page. Cast not any shadow near his bubble of concentration or he will back away, whisper an obscenity and pull the trigger only when things finally calm down. A player moving in one’s peripheral vision is like watching someone dance the Hokey Pokey during your pre-shot routine. Order of play dictated by the “honor system” is like playing in a snail race. The opposite is the “Tee Grabber” who runs up first every time. He has the patience of an ant in a sugar jar. Slow players just can’t be cured because they don’t know or will not admit they are slow. Enrolling in “Turtles Anonymous” would be a start. “My name is Joe, I am slow, and I have my head in my shell.”
Yes, Golf is a Metaphor and RMCC a Stage.
Don Thames, golf pro at Rancho Murieta Country Club, can be reached at email@example.com.