A perfectionist by definition, I’ve often wondered whether I am good at something because I like doing it, or if I like doing it because I’m good at it. When I took up golf eight years ago so Husband and I would have a common interest once we emptied our nest, my question turned inside out: Can I like golf even if I’m really, really bad at it? And by bad, I mean so bad that I don’t bother to keep score because I can’t count that high.
Might I add (even though I can’t) that I never liked golf in the first place. First, I had grown to resent the game before I ever tried it, because it had become my husband’s mistress. This became all too clear during a romantic vacation in Hawaii. I often found myself alone during daylight hours when aforementioned husband ditched me to play a round with the bartenders we had befriended during our nightly cocktails. It seems that barkeeps on Maui choose their line of work to keep their days free for golf. They even get discounts on greens fees, subsidized by the outrageous cost paid by their golf-loving tourist brethren.
Aside from that, I had countless other reasons to resent golf. Which is a good thing, because as I have already established, counting is not my forte. A sampling:
It’s a slow game with at least a four-hour commitment. I have one speed — 4th gear. Which means I could get to the ball on foot well before a golf cart putters up to even the longest drive off the tee.
The sport is extremely difficult to master. Only one-quarter of experienced players ever break 100, even though a score of 72 is par for 18 holes. Picking up the sport at 40-something, I could expect to be dead well before I reached that milestone. If ever.
Also, Golf courses are outside. Where it’s very very hot. And I sweat like a poolside margarita.
As if those reasons are not enough to deter me, ladies golf clothes are not designed for petites. (I’m 4-9- and- a-half. Don’t forget the “1/2”.) Decked out in my regulation golf pants and collared shirt, I look like a 6-year-old playing dress-up in her mommy’s closet. If Mommy were a Sasquatch.
But — the shoes are cute. I’m a shoe girl always looking for an excuse to add to my collection, since shoes are the one article of clothing I can buy that never need to be shortened. So I decided to take the next step and give golf a chance.
The first thing I learned about golf is that not unlike ladies golf pants, factory-issued clubs are too long for Uber-petites like myself. I needed Google Maps to find my way to the ball. Fortunately there is a solution: Cut down the shafts. More alterations!
Next lesson: Righties should choose a spot as far to the left side of the driving range as possible. This ensures that fewer experienced golfers might witness my incompetence. As luck would have it the first time I braved the driving range, a Leftie set up right next to me. Which means we stood nose-to-nose — or would have, if I was a foot taller. The point is, he was facing me. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing worse than an up-close-and-personal witness to my $@#tty swing would be: Party. Bathroom. Flush. Overflow.
I found an instructor forthwith — a lanky guy with a soothing deep voice, who happened to be a ringer for a young Bing Crosby. I’m not sure why I even recognized the resemblance, because Crosby was a crooner whose heyday was from the 1930’s through the ‘50’s, and he died when I was 10 years old. In any case, Crosby was known as much for his penchant for golf as he was for his baritone.
Anyway, my Bing Crosby-lookalike golf pro was knowledgeable as well as exceedingly patient. And discreet, even though I provided a wealth of material for thigh-slapping clubhouse stories. As far as I know, he never shared them at my expense.
For example, I was so nervous for that first lesson that I failed to notice I had forgotten to zip my fly after tucking in my golf shirt. And so it was that I later discovered I had taken the entire hour-long lesson with an air-conditioned crotch.
Aside from the threat of the occasional left-handed golfer, lessons on the range became my hiding place. With “Bing” as my only witness, there were months of swinging and missing, digging ditches in the turf, and blistered palms courtesy of my Vulcan death grip on the club. I found myself praying for rain on mornings that I had a lesson scheduled. Since I live in South Florida, morning rain is rare. So despite myself, I got infinitesimally better. Still nowhere near good, but better nonetheless.
As my swing improved, so did my attitude. I was pleasantly surprised that I chose to stick with something that does not come naturally to me. At first, I distracted myself from red-faced embarrassment by bonding with my golf pro. Since whiffing the ball is no fun, I reasoned that creating private jokes about it with Bing could be an enjoyable alternative. We dubbed the first 10 feet in front of me on the range The Shame Zone and adopted a policy of pretending it hadn’t happened each time I miss-hit and the ball skidded no further than that. When he instructed me to aim further left and the ball went right, Bing would correct me: “Your other left.” And so on.
Eventually, he convinced me to come out of hiding and play a round with my husband. Like Bing, Husband is infinitely patient. Would that I could be as patient with myself! I was terrified that I would annoy the foursome behind us by taking so much time. Husband reassured me: “You can play bad. Just don’t play slow.” So when I had too many bloopers in a row, I’d pick up and play from wherever his ball had landed. If my ball ended up in a sand trap or nestled in a tangle of tree roots, I’d throw it onto the fairway for a better lie. And instead of keeping score with numbers, I created a system of emojis: Anything more than 3 over par was a sad face. Two over = a neutral face. One over or better earns a smiley face. And on those rare occasions that I parred a hole in the regulation number of strokes, I’d do a split jump as my ball dropped into the cup with a satisfying “plunk”. (I was a cheerleader in high school.)
Now, edging up on a decade as a duffer, my score for any given round remains about twice that of a professional golfer. Yet I have discovered the allure of the game. It’s not about the number of strokes I take. It’s about savoring that one improbably beautiful swing that lands exactly where I meant it to, and further than I could have dreamed.
In this way, I discovered that a successful round of golf is a lot like living life the way it is meant to be lived:
Stay in the moment. When you find yourself in The Shame Zone, remember to just keep swinging. Eventually, you’ll get where you’re going.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Be the best YOU can be, even if your best isn’t very good at all. Remember that everyone else is too focused on their own game to worry about yours.
Loosen your grip. Clinging too tightly to preconceived notions of “success” leads only to blisters and pain.
Embrace failure. It’s a great opportunity to stop taking yourself so seriously. They call it “playing” golf for a reason.
And perhaps the most important lesson of all: Before leaving the locker room, XYZPDQ.
Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots and you get good breaks from bad shots — But you have to play the ball where it lies.
— Bobby Jones