35: One at a Time

35: One at a Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

One at a Time

If profanity had an influence on the flight of the ball, the game of golf would be played far better than it is.

~Horace G. Hutchinson

My introduction to the game of golf came as a teenage caddie at an exclusive country club near our home. The $3.50 I was paid for eighteen holes of carrying singles and $5.75 for doubles was a welcome wage for my first job outside our home. My blue-collar family could never afford to belong to a club like this, so my duties were also my entry inside the gates that we so frequently passed. Every Monday was “caddie day,” which meant we could play the course for free.

I had always been an above-average athlete. I expected I would do as well with golf. Never having taken even basic lessons, my transition from a baseball bat to a 5-iron was not pretty. My ability to deal with this fact was uglier still. My frequent shots hit out of bounds, whiffed at or drubbed thirty feet up the fairway generally led to a loud, blue stream of cursing. More than one golf club was left to decorate some elm tree, having been thrown and caught up too high to retrieve. At eighteen, even I was mature enough to realize that I needed to either get serious about my golf or give it up. Shortly thereafter, college pursuits gave me little time to play, and a new job meant I would have to pay real greens fees. The “pleasure” I derived from playing made not playing an easy decision.

At the age of thirty-five, I found myself the father of two boys—eight and ten years old. Their friends in our Iowa neighborhood all played golf. So one summer, our boys took group lessons at a public course near our home. They were both quickly hooked. The lessons they took and a “kids play all day for five dollars” program at a short course in town made for a great summer. About this time, my new job was requiring some very long hours, and my wife suggested that I take up golf as a way to spend time with the boys. I quickly confessed my “dark past” with golf and that I didn’t think I would enjoy it any more now than I did then. In the end, her motherly instincts and wifely persuasion won out. “Free Lessons with Every Purchase of a New Set of Clubs” caught my eye, and armed with my credit card I trekked down to the discount golf store.

Much to my surprise, it was different this time. Same basic instruction... the grip... the setup and stance... backswing and follow through... all helped me focus more on the process than necessarily just the result. After many hours on the driving range, I was still not breaking 100 but I enjoyed the experience of learning something new. It propelled me out of the office and into the fresh air of the Iowa heartland. And it did give me more time with my boys. It was interesting, though, to see how their own impatience and lack of maturity caused problems on the course. The ebb and flow of good moods and bad determined what kind of an outing we had. Both boys had inherited my competitiveness. After each hole, they would argue about the accuracy of the score reported by the other sibling. While I was older and more patient than when I first took up the game, I still did my share of carping about lost balls and their slow play as other foursomes waited behind us. Back at home, I was usually greeted by my wife’s insightful, “Well, how did it go this time?”

It bothered me that our time together on the course was not creating the father-son bonding experience that my wife and I had envisioned. In my earlier years, I might have become discouraged and vowed not to take the boys out anymore. But giving up is seldom the answer, and some of my favorite memories were of my own dad’s love of sports and the way he taught me to play by playing with me. At times like this, if we can only discard discouragement and replace it with a search for new possibilities, we can often rekindle an earlier dream.

I decided to take the boys out one at a time. I also decided to relax and let them play their game at their pace without regard for the result. If they lose a ball, we’ll buy another. When they say their score, I’ll just write it down. After all, it is their score not mine. I would also take half-days away from the office so we could play during slow times and maintain our own pace. But above all, I remembered, be encouraging, no carping and no criticism. The time we spend together will be our goal and our reward. And it worked! I have great memories now of times on the course with the boys. My best Father’s Day gift was when my oldest son took me for a free round of golf at a course where he worked.

I am forty-seven now. My scores are not much lower than they were in the past. But I can play all day and not care. So what has changed since my first set of clubs and the frustration of those early years? Golf has taught me much about life, even as life has taught me much about golf:

1. Relax—the easier you swing, the farther the ball will go. A white-knuckle grip and a harder swing will probably only increase the tension and reduce the joy—with poor results to follow.

2. Get some basic instruction from the experts... better yet, find a mentor and vow to have a listening, teachable spirit.

3. Focus on people. Choose to play with people you enjoy, people who you’ve found that lift your spirit. Head out to the course on your own sometime and practice showing interest in whomever fate may place you with that day. Look for ways to be an encouraging and uplifting gift to their day.

4. Refresh yourself by learning something new. New experiences will help to keep you young, will rekindle your interest, your vitality and your love for life. Find a partner who shares your interest in learning and in experiencing new things.

5. Look for the positive possibilities in every challenging situation. Very seldom will you have no shot at all. Even when you do, you may be able to take your drop and scramble back into play. Go for it.

6. Realize that life, like golf, has its ups and downs... its bunkers and fairways. Ride it out. Beyond each bunker is a well-groomed fairway or green. It only takes one shot to put it back in play.

7. Sharpen up your “inner game.” A smooth, relaxed swing—like a smooth, relaxed life—begins in your mind and heart. Learn to stir and rekindle the human spirit by stopping to “smell the roses” along the way. Take a deep breath. Look around at the beauty of the course and get the most from the experience.

8. Tempo is important. Get in touch with your feelings. A good swing has a distinct and gratifying feel. Developing a feel for the game is as important as the mechanics.

9. Above all, have fun—enjoy the journey and the process and let the results take care of themselves.

~Larry R. Pearson
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul

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