Golf is a game of misses. With all the variable involved in striking a golf ball, it is impossible for anyone to achieve a flawless swing, perfect impact, and ideal flight, shot after shot. The professional golfer comes closer to striking the ball properly than anyone else, but he still “misses” – to a certain degree – most of the time. Yet he accepts the real conditions of play more readily than the mood-ridden amateur golfer who thinks golf can and should be conquered totally. In extreme cases, this golfer becomes haughty and hot-headed about his failure to conquer the game. At this point the game begins to dominate him.
I once gave a playing lesson to a young fellow with a reputation for losing his temper. His father, exasperated, had asked me to take him out for a round and see what I could do about the problem. During several holes, the boy played very well, but finally he exploded. He drove a ball out of bounds and promptly flung his club down the fairway after it.
I went over to the boy, put my arm on his shoulder, and calmly said, “Will you do me a big favor?” He said, “Yes” but he frowned when I told him what I had in mind. I asked him to throw his club just as far as he could after each shot he made, until I told him to stop.
After we played several more holes, the boy’s arm began to feel the strain of the required club throwing. Club members in neighboring fairways were watching with curiosity, to the boy’s great embarrassment. After still a few more holes, I asked him if he wanted to go back to playing golf in the normal fashion. He said he did. He was cured of throwing clubs from that day on.
What I tried to impart to the boy was an attitude, a spirit of self-discipline, that I think every golfer should seek to achieve. In this prosperous, almost pampered age, it seems to me more important than ever that people – youth in particular – learn to handle the problems that arise in a game like golf, as a preparation for coping with some of the harsher adversities of life. Beyond that, emotional self-control in golf is essential to improvement. If you don’t approach the game with intelligence and calm, you’re defeated at the outset.
Cheating, swearing, blaming bad luck, the course or one’s partner, and retreating into a sullen silence during a match are other familiar symptoms of the same problem. I have suffered through numerous rounds with golfers – often golfers of high skill – who spend their time moaning because they are falling short of ideal. And yet I’ve enjoyed numerous rounds with comparatively poor golfers because of the realistic expectations they bring to their game, and the pleasures they get from executing a stroke even though it may be short of “perfection.”
The golf course remains the same whether you score a 65 or 105. To a certain degree, the healthy golfer remains the same, too. Accept the challenge of golf for what it is – and enjoy it.