As I procrastinated penning this latest column, I hit a milestone birthday. The day before I reached this number (which I won’t reveal here), I was fortunate to see 90-year-old Willie Nelson play live. Talk about an ageless wonder. His guitar, Trigger, has as many scratches, nicks and lines as are etched into Willie’s furrowed forehead. The Martin N-20 acoustic has travelled the long and winding road with him since 1969. On this instrument, the singer-songwriter has created many of his famous singalong songs such as “On the Road Again,” and “Always on My Mind.” What struck me most about watching the original country outlaw — and songwriting legend — perform is that he still loves what he is doing. I smiled watching Nelson perform with his youngest son Micah (57 years his junior), especially when father and son shared their own smile. The best part of this concert experience was that I shared the moment with my wife and two teenagers, who had surprised me for my special day with tickets to the Outlaw Music Festival in Darien Lake, N.Y.
These events got me ruminating about time, what age really means and how golf reflects the passage of time. As I wrote in my last column, golf is a game that all ages can play. My parents, both in their early 80s, still play a couple of times a week throughout the summer. Many a golf memory from my childhood was made playing with one of them in the annual Parent/Child event at our club. My father says that the day he can no longer walk the course with his pushcart, he will quit. I believe that this is silly, since what’s wrong with taking a golf cart if it allows you to keep playing?
The expression in golf “to shoot your age” refers to a golfer who, for 18 holes, registers a score that matches or is better than their current age. It’s no surprise that the record on the PGA TOUR in this category belongs to one of the greatest golfers of all time – Slammin’ Sam Snead who, at 67, equalled his age at the Quad Cities Open in 1979. While this feat is incredible, noteworthy and rare (apparently only five to 10 per cent of golfers will achieve this feat in their lifetime), as you add years to your life, achieving this milestone is not the goal. And, without giving away my age, I won’t be joining this 10 per cent anytime soon. Not doubt it’s an amazing accomplishment if you are in your 70s and can shoot a score in the 70s, but what is more important is that you are still playing and enjoying this game of a lifetime, no matter the final numbers you mark on the scorecard.
As I’ve written in this space before, I enjoy golfing much more since I stopped keeping score. In a way, it’s the same with age. It’s really just a number. There are so many idioms and expressions that speak to how many birthdays we’ve had: “act your age” and “you are only as old as you feel,” to name just a couple. Or, as one of my favourite songwriters sings, “I’m growing older, but not up!”
Slow down and take your time before each shot. Yes, golf should be a time of relaxation to slow down and be in the moment. But don’t slow down so much that you hold up groups behind you or begin to annoy your playing partners. I remember golfing with a friend years ago who, before each shot, did calisthenics; he also lined up each putt as if he were about to win the Masters. Needless to say, my game suffered. I did not enjoy these rounds as he affected my rhythm and my pace of play. My advice: always be respectful of your playing partners and the groups behind and in front of you. If you play a little slower, put your ego aside and let the faster players play through.
The idioms for time are endless. Time flies, wasting time, turn back the hands of time, to kill time, behind the times, in the nick of time, etc. In retirement, some complain that they have too much time on their hands. Is that such a bad thing? In our work-obsessed North American culture, where people forgo vacations, work on weekends and busyness is a badge that people wear as if it’s an accomplishment, what’s wrong with having idle time to just ponder the wonders of life? Do you feel you are living on borrowed time? Then make sure that this fall, you spend time doing what you love with the people you love. Do not spend minutes and days living in the past. Regrets, sure, I’ve had a few, but why ruminate over them and play past scenes from the movie of my life in my mind when there is so much living still to do – and golf to play! Is time on my side? Does it really matter? I try to live in the moment and stay present whether I’m golfing or spending time with family.
How about the idiom, “to act one’s age.” Is it so bad to possess a teenage spirit, carry a childlike curiosity and get a little silly once in a while? Does this make one less mature? If this is the case, I’m okay with that – even if it embarrasses my teenagers.
I leave you with one final idiom – “Be the ball!” – made famous by Chevy Chase’s Zen Buddhist character Ty Webb, who repeats this mantra before every putt in the 1980 slapstick comedy Caddyshack. This three-word phrase simply means to clear your mind of all other thoughts and focus on the task ahead.
Here’s wishing you a golf season ahead filled with making more putts, shooting your age (or leaving the scorecard in your bag), not always acting your age and sometimes showing your silly side. And, most important, taking time to – like the tycoon movie character Ty Webb – stay in the moment. Because even though time might not always feel as if it is on your side, what really is time but a construct? Use it wisely. Embrace every second – on or off the golf course.