Golf and Life

As I sat down in my trusty chair to type these words, hope abounded. The land borders between Canada and the U.S. were about to reopen. Concert halls, restaurants, museums and many other businesses were set to reopen at full capacity. After 18 months of lockdowns, quarantines and uncertainties about the life we knew, this is good news. Here’s hoping that when you receive this copy of CSA News, you are healthy, safe and somewhere warm − enjoying your winter home once more. Wondering what to write about for you this time around, I ruminated on the idea that golf in many ways, as a sport and as a hobby, is a metaphor for life – now more so than ever.

From the moment I first picked up a golf club in my preteen years, I knew that this game was different. As a Canadian kid, and the son of a dad who played hockey in university and coached at the University of Wisconsin with Badger Bob Johnson, it was inevitable that the first game I gravitated to was our nation’s favourite pastime. Not long after I learned to walk, my dad laced up a pair of skates on my feet and guided me behind the Zamboni in Aspen, Colorado, where we attended Bob’s hockey school every summer. I’ll never forget that feeling of freedom when my dad finally let me go and I took my first strides on my own. It was equivalent to the joy every kid feels when he or she loses the training wheels on their first bike and pedals on their own.

Golf, however, from the moment I grabbed a driver in my hand, was different. First, the club did not feel comfortable in my hands. How did I grip this object? Then, what did I do with it? Unlike learning to walk, skate and cycle, it was not a simple action with only one way to do it. This was a different beast. Like life, there was no single way to handle it. Sure, there are suggestions of what grip to use and how to swing a golf club, but each person − after taking a few lessons or watching some videos these days − adapts their golf swing to what works for them. The same for life. Our parents and our teachers show us how to face the challenges which life throws at us, but the reality is that we learn these fundamental life lessons and teachings and then, each day, we adapt them and shape them to fit our individual situations. This pandemic, which has lingered on for too long, has epitomized this reality and made the point even more clear that we are not in control of our lives as much as many of us think that we are.

The other way in which golf mimics life is that no one round is the same as another due to the environment and Mother Nature’s many moods. There are few other sports where, in the course of playing, you have to face winds, rain and other external factors that force you to make decisions and adapt your choices of club or shot to counteract these conditions. The same is true for our daily existence. While many of us get set into routines, within these routines there is little that is the same. Each day is not the same, even when we feel as if we are living a scene from Bill Murray’s character’s life in the classic film Groundhog Day. There are subtle changes and subtle differences. That is one of the reasons I love golf. It takes discipline of the mind and the body. Everything needs to work together to achieve success. No matter how many times I’ve played a course or think that I know a particular hole, there are always new challenges which I’ve never faced before. That is also what makes the game so damn difficult!

Golf, like life, is about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s not about perfection. There are those who live life wanting everything that they do to be perfect, but I’m sorry to burst your bubble: that is not reality. Life is more beautiful when it is blemished and a little bruised. That, for me, is utopia. Not a world where everything is pristine. The same can be said for golf.

As a kid, I always found it boring to watch the father of one of my best friends play the game. He was an excellent golfer. He played methodically. He played by every rule – no matter if he was competing in a tournament or just out for a Sunday round with his son. And most of his shots hit the fairways and the greens in regulation. But watching him, I thought – this is not golf. And this is not life. It’s boring.

If your shot-making is always perfect, or you achieve what you believe is flawlessness in any of life’s pursuits for that matter, where is the excitement? For me, at least, this becomes a mundane existence. You need to face obstacles: shots and situations unseen before. Hitting off of a tree root or a blind shot from behind a tall pine. Or, a blustery wind in your face and rain to boot. Now, that is reality. That is life. And that is why I love golf − because it imitates life. Think about all of the decisions that you have to make during a round: what club to hit when, how hard to hit the ball, the decisions are endless on each shot. The game improves your decision-making and helps your mental acuity.

Finally, golf, like life, requires both short- and long-term planning. Although COVID-19 has taught us that making plans too far in the future often leads to disappointment when factors outside of our control prevent these plans from materializing, it is still important to plan.

That said, I live life one day at a time. While that’s my motto, it does not mean that I don’t plan for the future. What it means is that I don’t get too far ahead of myself to the point where I worry about things that happened in the past, or what might happen in the future. I have little control over a lot of what happens as I walk through this journey we call life, but there are things which I can control and things I can plan for − and that is what I focus on. The same goes for a round of golf. I can begin my round with a goal and with a plan of how I want to play. For example, I step to the first tee with a mind set on playing bogey golf or not losing any balls. But I can’t control the slow players ahead of me who affect my rhythm and affect my concentration, or the tree branch that kicks my ball out of bounds, rather than back onto the fairway, just like in life when we can’t control what others do or say. We need to remain focused on what we can control. Be in the moment and whatever happens, happens.

Well, enough of my ruminations on golf and life. Here’s to a winter of content wherever you are. Take it one shot at a time. Plan when you can, but enjoy the journey of the unexpected and realize that there is often perfection in imperfection and beauty in the ugliness that life throws our way.

By David McPherson