|“I don’t need to play golf.”|
Or do I?
It is ironic that we have such a passion for the game. Ask golfers to describe their golf games and the adjectives start to flow….frustrating, disappointing, mediocre, etc… Rarely do we describe our games in glowing terms. We lament our mistakes, not understanding how, after spending large blocks of time on the driving range, along with taking a multitude of lessons (NOT to mention buying the latest and greatest in golf equipment), that we remain incapable of living up to our scoring expectations. Hmm, tell me again why I play this game?
Long ago I experienced an epiphany that reshaped my perception of the game. Up until that “game changer” moment I, too, vented to anyone who cared to listen about the status of my less-than-perfect playing results. In my early 20’s I worked at a military golf course in San Diego, California. Late afternoons were my favorite time to hit the links. Most days I threw my bag over my shoulder and headed to the first tee.
Late one afternoon as I made the turn a gentleman drove up in a golf cart. ‘Frank’ introduced himself, and asked if he could join me. Agreeing, I welcomed his company. As I had already hit my drive, I waited patiently for him to tee off. Painstakingly, he slowly climbed out of his cart, grabbed his driver, and with an awkward-looking gait, made his way to the tee. His drive was beautiful, down the middle about 240 yards. I was curious as to how he hit the ball so well as his swing was the most unorthodox looking swing I had ever seen.
As we progressed through the round, conversation inevitably rolled around to our shared love of the game. Of course being “20 something” I felt that I should be playing better. Each and every shot that didn’t turn out as I had planned was inexcusable. After all, I devoted hours every day to practice and was busy readying myself for the mini tour. Meanwhile, all Frank had to say when a shot of his was missed was, “Now it gets Fun! Fun?
“How can you call this fun?” I asked. “What is so fun double bogeying a hole after you birdied the last one?”
Frank replied, “What is so fun for you when you drive it down the middle, hit the green and two putt for a par?”
“ Well, I feel a sense of accomplishment,” I replied.
Frank was silent for a moment looking lost in thought. Nothing more was said for a hole or two until I yanked one into the trees. With my frustration mounting, Frank drove over to my shot and quietly said, “Why don’t you challenge me to a closest to the green shot from here, loser buys the soda.” Always up for competition, I readily agreed.
He hit his shot knocking it down under the branches, but it got snagged in the rough and finished about 50 yards in front of the green. I knew I could beat him if I could somehow keep it low but I would need to hook the ball so that I could reach the fairway earlier without having to carry over the rough. The shot came out as I had pictured and the ball rested just a few short yards in front of the green. My eyes lit up so excited to beat this man who so clearly was the better player.
“ Wow!” he said. “Great shot! How much fun was that?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. All of a sudden I stopped short and stared at him, light dawning on my face. “Yes,” he said. “It was fun, wasn’t it?” Agreeing, I suddenly was the quiet one.
“You see, I never answered you earlier as to why I play golf, Diane. The truth is I play golf for the mistakes. I love using my imagination. Making up shots, using my clubs differently, finding ways to still make a decent score after being less than perfect invigorates me. Some days, Diane, I am more human than others,” he said with a grin and I knew I was in for a “personal improvement day.”
Geez,” I said. “I have never looked at the game that way. To me it is all about proving that I can duplicate my swing that I work so hard for on the range, hour after hour.”
“Well,” Frank responded, “that would be great, but how would you ever learn how to handle adversity, improve problem solving skills, and quiet your emotions so you can re-focus on a positive outcome? There is nothing like a sense of achievement when you overcome obstacles successfully!” I nodded my head as a light bulb lit up deep in the recesses of my brain.
“By the way,” I said, “since you are obviously giving me a much needed pep talk, tell me who taught you that unorthodox looking swing? Frank, you are two under par through nine holes, yet I have hit more greens and more fairways than you, but somehow you are getting it in the hole.”
Frank quietly looked me in the eye and said, “A land mine in Vietnam. I lost both of my legs, Diane, and when I finally returned to the States I felt I had nothing to live for. Before the war I was a star collegiate football player. After the accident golf became a way to do something athletically that didn’t require running.
“Little did I realize how hard it is to hit this little white ball. I struggled in the beginning to simply not fall down when I swung the club so my expectations were somewhat different than the average Joe taking up the game. Along my journey in recovery I sensed the real gifts that playing the game of golf offered. Every golf day is a day full of promise and challenge.
“I need my golf days for they keep me alive. It is a privilege to having something in my life that provides fun, recreation and personal improvement opportunities all under one roof. You are blessed to have the swing you have, Diane. I am sure you will have a great future in the game, just do me a favor, don’t be so hard on yourself. Golf has dropped many gifts at your young feet, now all you need to do is unwrap them!”
That soda Frank owed me never tasted so good, and I never had a win that ever had more impact in my life than that shot hit from under the tree.