Like all sports, golf has its cliches. Drive for show and putt for dough. Never up, never in. Saturday is moving day. Take each shot as it comes. Sunday is payday.
Now this last one, a variation on the footballer’s ‘we play one game at a time’, is worth examining.
In mindfulness terms, it is about staying in the present; not getting ahead of yourself; not letting your mind run away with itself; not letting your current position be ruined by planning ahead. Golfers are generally well-versed in the notion of not thinking about your winners’ speech when you have a good score going with three holes to play, or the idea that shooting a good score gets harder when you have a card in your hand for a competition. But it is easier said than done.
I am back playing golf seriously again now after nearly 20 years away. It has been a wonderful reintroduction to my life and is proving – as was planned – to be playing an important role in my approach to life-work balance and my wellbeing.
I love the game. I love the complete immersion you can get from the time you are on the course; taking you away from the stresses and strains of work. I love the ability to enjoy the game equally whether playing alone (which I often do, finding time to break up my work days with a few holes here and there) or with friends or new golfing acquaintances. I love the fresh air and the surrounding; especially the incredibly special place that I ply my golfing trade at Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club (S&A) – a magnificent but devilishly difficult course. I love the battle with yourself (physical and mental) and the elements (the variables of weather and course conditions) that make it a unique challenge in the world of sport. I love the competition. I love the traditions and values of the game. I just love golf.
I joined S&A in October and given my time away from the game – I had been playing infrequently but had not been a member of a club – I had to reapply for my handicap. This process (playing three rounds with a member – “marking three cards”) could only start when the course had reopened fully after the winter – in late March. This was perfect timing as it gave me several months to get my game back into reasonable shape and to adapt to some new clubs – I invested in a new set for the first time in 24 years! Having gone through that three cards process I was given my new handicap, seven. Delighted – if a little daunted – I then set about the new season, playing in the last two weekend competitions, bringing us to yesterday.
The only comparison I can draw is it’s like passing your driving test. You can officially drive – you are ready to get behind the wheel alone but you still have a lot to learn. You need to get match fit – you become a good driver.
That is the process I am currently gong through. I play several times a week, generally on my own and generally playing comfortably to my new handicap. I have teed up on the last two Saturdays and struggled. Both rounds have followed the same pattern; a slow or poor start; good work in the middle of the round to get it back on track; some excellent golf (including a driver-wedge eagle yesterday the par 5, 530 yard ninth hole – it was downside with a brick hard bounce off my tee shot!) and then a frankly hopeless finish to the round. Last week, two eights (and other mistakes from the 11th). This week a 7-9-7-7 (+13!!) finish over the last four holes, having stood in position A- on the left side of the 15th fairway. Both finishes took me way over my handicap and nursing a big, ugly final score. In the middle of this I lost in my opening match of the club knockout competition – with a heavy loss (although even I’d have shot 72 I would have lost 2&1!).
Despite these three poor results – and the smack in the gut feeling from yesterday’s final four holes – I remain upbeat and positive. I know that I am readapting, almost learning from scratch given how long I have been away, to competitive golf. The different pressure of the card in your hand and the knowledge that every shot counts takes some getting used to. I see yesterday and last week as great learning opportunities and although shooting the same very poor score both weeks I know yesterday was an improvement on the week before.
The key now – as in life – is to learn from the past but not be defined or cowed by it. To keep getting back on the horse (sorry, another sporting cliche) and to keep trying to improve.
I have my name down to play next time – the week after next (there is no competition for members next Saturday). I know that if I keep doing what I am doing it will fall into place – but only if I draw on the best of mindfulness – I concentrate on each shot; I don’t think ahead to the next hole; I don’t do the mental arithmetic in my head on what my final score could be if I parred this or parred that; if I stay in the present.
This challenge is one of the reasons this wonderful game is loved by millions around the world and its why the lads knocking the ball around a field in Sawgrass this week are the best in the world. Their ability to play every shot as if it was their first and last is the key. I will keep you posted on my own golfing and mindfulness journey; hoping that one of these Saturdays will be my payday.