Golf is like life
A good walk spoiled?
Photo by ping lee on Unsplash
I was driving home from the golf course several weeks ago musing about my round and all those missed opportunities, when it suddenly struck me that golf is a bit like life. How incredibly perceptive I thought until a search later revealed that golfers and writers alike, came to the same conclusion a long time ago. I even found poetry on the subject, although rhyme seems to denigrate the meaning a bit.
Bobby Jones, who won the golf grand slam in 1930 (the 4 major events at the time) said a now famous quote.
Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies.
This sounds like a golfing version of making your bed and then having to lie in it.
John Updike (US author of the Rabbit series, Witches of Eastwick, to name a few) was a keen golfer who once said,
Golf would be truly like life only if, some players were using tennis rackets and hockey pucks, some were teeing off backward from the green to the tee, and some thought the object of the game was to spear other players with the flagsticks.”
He has a point. Golf is full of rules, there’s an official book of them. Anyone picking up on similarities might be wishing that life was more organised, regulated and managed. A bit fairer. A bit like golf?
To find a man’s true character, play golf with him said P.G. Wodehouse and so beautifully illustrated by the 45th US president, Commander in Cheat.
Age isn’t a handicap
I’ve enjoyed playing golf ever since I picked up an old 9-iron at the age of 12. I practiced in a field by my junior school while Brandy, our Heinz-variety rescue dog had to amuse herself. It was great to develop a golf swing while I was young, but it’s the only sport I’ve played where youth doesn’t provide an immediate advantage. Many of the big winners on the professional tour were well into their thirties before they won.
I joined Ealing at 58 years old with some confidence that I could improve on my handicap of 16, when I was 16. That finally happened with some dedication and a good run of form last week. I’m now officially a better player than teenage me was.
Because there is a handicap system, good players can play with bad ones and still lose. It’s a very good leveller and means I can mix in with others without too much trepidation. I’ve had some of my most enjoyable games playing with twenty something year olds with very low handicaps (the closer to zero, the more impressive they are). Being able to play and also watch them play is a lesson not to be missed.
Golf is a journey, so is life?
Striving to achieve something struck me as familiar. When I joined my handicap was 23 which seemed to be overly generous. But the score cards don’t lie and Ealing is an unforgiving course - wayward shots are often punished.
I was a very happy Rabbit, the best organised part of our club. It meant I played against other clubs and their Rabbits. I still wanted to escape and become a Fox, but I needed a handicap of 18 or better before that could happen. We also have Tigers, they’re a rarer breed, 9 or better to wear one of their shirts.
There were many disappointments. Expectations dashed by some seriously awful play. But gradually, I turned into a Fox. Working towards something sounds a lot like my old business, turning an idea into something more tangible. Something to be proud of.
If you like people, it’s a great place to be
There are lots of people at my club from many different backgrounds. A cross section of society turns up everyday to play. There are a lot more Polos than Porsches in the carpark reflecting how golf has become a sport for more of us.
For some, the club is an integral part of their lives. Many have been members for a long time. Their best friends are members too, having met on the first tee 30 years ago. They play a lot and they often give a lot back to the club.
I’ve had the pleasure of becoming the fourth ball in a number of well established groups which were down one. A regular player is away and effectively you’re the sub for the day. Being a good playing partner, fitting in quickly, is a skill which can be learnt. Good listening helps. Occasionally, if you’re asked back for a next time, I take it as a worthy accolade.
Few shout when they win
Congratulations to England for beating Germany, the first time in major competition since 1966. A gentle reminder to over-exuberant commentators and fans; a place in the quarter-finals is like having a good score for 9-holes. There are still 9 more holes to go and anything can and will happen.
Golfers are at the opposite end of the spectrum and remain largely humble in victory. For most of us it doesn’t happen often and we know only too well how lucky we are to be the one with the lowest score. The best round of my life happened recently in a club rollup. The joy was in beating myself and the course for once, not my fellow golfers. We’re on the same side. The enemy is a narrow corridor of trees on the 17th or out of bounds on the 4th.
Winning in life, often mistaken for success, is best welcomed with the same humility of a golfer. Enjoy the plaudits but maintain a sense of proportion and respect those there to see it.
One last thought
David Owen, a US journalist who writes extensively about golf, summed up the relationship between golf and life rather succinctly.
Golf reminds you of your mortality. Like life, a round of golf begins in easy optimism, progresses through a lengthy middle period in which hope and despair are mingled, deteriorates into regret, confusion, and resignation, and comes abruptly to an end.
Ever the optimist, thank goodness we can all come back tomorrow and do it again.