There was a time in my life when I was pretty bad at golf. I mean, I used to hold an iron like a baseball bat, lift my front foot, and carry the club head through impact like I was trying to punch a line drive to center field. This mostly resulted in severe slices, and while I paid to play from tee to green, I frequently spent a good bit of time in the forest. Still, my ineptitude for the game never bothered me so long as I was playing baseball. But then one day, I stopped playing.
From the time that I was or six or seven years old, I played baseball every spring and summer, and I also played a fair amount of fall ball. I loved the game for a long time, but some serious injuries coupled with introspection drove me from the diamond just one year before finishing my college career. So like many other athletes that defined and measured part of their existence by their contributions to sport, I was left with a void to fill upon graduation. I was left considering my options, and over time, that which became most apparent was the game that had left me so perplexed and confused over the years: golf. Almost overnight, I became determined to rectify my game and post respectable scores.
When trying to improve my baseball skills, I always sought help–a lesson my dad had instilled. So I took a golf lesson. The club pro watched me smack a bucket of balls around the driving range before lending any insight or instruction. I guess he needed to see how hopeless the cause was before devising a plan. Next, he changed the way I held the club, explained how I should approach the ball (foot positioning mostly), and told me to keep my lead arm locked through the entirety of my swing. I played the next day and struck the ball more consistently than ever. It was amazing how a few adjustments made a vast difference–a truth that I had learned of baseball, too. From that point, so much of golf’s great riddle began to explain itself to me (or so I think!). It also helped a great deal that I no longer swung my club like a baseball bat. I began to understand why I hit the ball well; conversely, I began to understand why I struck the ball poorly. Prior to that lesson and continued examination over the course of the last six or seven years, I was left dumbfounded by poor play, frustrated by results, and mentally drained.
And so began the real process of improving my golf game: the mental aspect. I don’t know that I will ever master the game of golf like I truly would like, but I do know that I can master my mind. I can say with great confidence that I approach the game in a vastly different manner than I used to, and because of this revelation, I am able to enjoy the days spent on the course. I am able to make peace with a double or triple bogey, and because I am inclined to learn, I am able to recover from poor play and minimize damage. I am able to make informed decisions, take appropriate risks, and live with the outcomes. The process of learning how to better manage my golf game has taught me much about myself, and it has revealed a level and appreciation for faith that previously claimed dormancy or was altogether missing. Like I must display faith in myself, other people, and circumstances outside of my control, I must also display faith in habit when punching out of the sand, delivering a blind shot from the fairway, or waiting for the break on a challenging putt. I must also know, just like human relationships, my faith will not always produce desired results–if it did, it wouldn’t have the same appeal.
In short, I’ve found much of my soul on the golf course. Where I used to let frustration run rampant and overcome my ability to improve, I now rise to the challenge and accept failure with a caveat that I will do better the next time. Maybe I could have learned these lessons anywhere, but I am convinced that my initial frustrations with the game presented opportunities to establish a relationship with the game that might not have been so rich or revelatory had I experienced them at an earlier point in my life. Then again, maybe I should give my inner-child a little more credit–some of the greatest truths I have ever heard have come from the relatively unaffected minds of youth.