As shocking as it may seem to the world, I somehow turned into a bit of a golfer. To this day, I still don’t know how it happened, despite my early distaste for the sport. My dad was an extremely avid golfer, and I learned who Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, and Greg Norman were simply from listening to Sunday afternoon golf tournaments. The living room was a putting green, the mud room was a permanent locker for his golf bag, and weekends were reserved a few rounds at our local course.
So, like any child who dabbled in a bit of rebellion, I refused to go near the sport.
I tried it, maybe once or twice, and quickly decided it was simply not the sport for me. Fast forward some twenty years later, and I’ve got my own set of golf clubs, a preference for high-set tees, and a slice I can “fix” as long as I aim for the left side of the fairway. Just knowing the words “tees,” “slice” and “fairway” make my inner eight-year-old a bit queasy.
Golf is a funny, funny teacher. It is relaxing as it is frustrating, a wonderful sport full of dichotomies. “Fore” example:
- You play on a beautiful, green course, lined with trees, gentle brooks, and manicured grass. You also want to throw your putter into that same brook and hack up most of the perfect grass when you can’t sink a putt.
- You need to swing your arms as if they were a pendulum to maintain a consistent swing. However, the baseball player in you wants to nail the crap out of your first drive, which usually results in it dribbling pathetically off the tee.
- You hit one, two, three shots perfectly in quick succession. You think you’ve finally got your technique down. Your fourth shot, set up entirely in the same way, lobs up into the air, quickly hitting a series of branches and twigs from a nearby tree and plops down 10 feet away from you. You rethink your entire life and existence.
- You wear cleats, gloves, visors, shorts, and shirts which will make you a better golfer. You get said cleats, gloves, visors, shorts, and shirts completely filthy when you have to go diving for lost balls in the man-made lake.
Golf is absolutely a mental game (okay, it’s mostly mental. I concede that if you were missing part of the physical (i.e. an arm, your vision), your overall game would suffer. But so much of it has to do with the voice inside of your head…the incipient, nagging, ulcer-inducing voice in your head that says things like:
- “Well, you hit that too hard.”
- “Are your feet far enough apart?”
- “What kind of grip is that?”
- “Why are you wearing flip flops?”
- “You’re going to have to use your 5 wood. You’re TERRIBLE with that club.”
- “Your arm isn’t straight.”
- “The green looks wet, which means you should probably hit it a little strong–oops, you over hit it.”
Needless to say, your game thrives when you can quiet your inner critic. This is no easy feat, but mine seemed to be pretty subdued last Thursday during my second outing of the summer.
I had just teed off on the first whole with a pretty admirable drive (my drives are the best part of my game…really, the only part of my game). I was quite pleased with it, but knew that the rest of the whole was going to be tedious. I’m notorious for:
- not getting my ball into the air with either my wedges or woods
- skulling/topping the ball
- shooting a rocket off my pitching wedge when attempting to lightly rest it on the green
- bad putting, in general
Up first, my initial attempt with one of my woods. Shockingly, the ball did not trickle 3 feet in front of me. It did not veer off to the side and into a ravine. It also did not land beautifully on the fairway as I would have hoped. Rather, it got somewhat off the ground and down the course by 20-30 feet.
I was relieved. Finally, a stroke with a wood that didn’t shuffle along the grass. I was just happy to see it get into the air. As I was with my successive two hits, which also had some air time. Then, I approached the green. My nemesis approached.
I love the idea of a wedge club. Just something delicate to lift your ball up into the air, like a tiny cloud, as it settles gently onto the quiet green. It’s a great idea, in thought. My execution looks more akin to someone being shot out of a cannon and NOT landing in the safety pad. But this time out, I actually got my ball onto the green…in one attempt. This is a big deal for me. Not for golfers with a genuine amount of talent, but for me.
My putts finally put an end to the whole with a seemingly laughable 9. Mind you, the par was 4 or 5. For you non-golfers out there, I didn’t get golf extra credit. Think of it more like the number of wrong answers you could get on a pop quiz…more is not the merrier.
The odd thing was that I wasn’t embarrassed by my 9…I was actually happy with it. My golfing partner asked what I recorded, and instead of groaning in despair, I actually had a buoyancy to my answer.
“I got a nine!”
“A nine?” he asked, probably concerned why I was so happy.
“Yep! It was a decent 9…a good 9….a happy 9!”
That got me thinking. My “happy 9” was another one of those golf dichotomies. Did I do well on the hole? Absolutely not. The PGA is not sending scouts to my door anytime soon. But, what I did do was make some shots that weren’t horrible. Sure, I overshot and undershot and nearly forgot we weren’t playing baseball, but I was happy with each shot I took, despite their numerous nature. I wasn’t frustrated with each swing and I felt improvement. I analyzed each stroke and applied my findings. By the end of the hole, I felt like I was making personal progress.
The more I thought about it, the more I fell in love with my idea of a “Happy 9.” There are Happy 9’s all over the place, if you’re keen enough to see them. You need to find something that, to the untrained eye, looks like a bit of a mess. But, to you, it’s something you’re personally so content with that nothing else matters.
I remember making a batch of cookies a few years ago that lacked a key ingredient. I didn’t realize my error until well after 3 dozen cookies were produced. To this day, I don’t remember what I left out, but I do remember those cookies being some of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. They weren’t nearly as chewy as they should have been, and their appearance left a lot to be desired. But once they hit your mouth, your brain turned off and your stomach took over. They were wonderful mistakes.
I think the key to finding these moments is the release of what we perceive as our judgement scale. In golf, that’s making par. In baking, it’s seeing what you’re promised on the recipe card. In gardening, it’s seeing your plants and flowers blossom and flourish.
I’m not saying that we need to ignore a generally accepted measure of success (brown, dry tomatoes and 1-inch squashes aren’t terribly great harvests). I am saying that it’s sometimes helpful to assess a situation in an entirely different way.
Does that start with positivity? Yes. But it also starts with going easy on ourselves. We can’t be perfect 100% of the time, but we can be that consistent with optimism and acceptance.
Did you only run 3 miles today instead of 4? Great, the good news is you still ran. Did a week of dedicated dieting only result in a 3 pound weight loss instead of 5? It’s okay, your body is still getting healthier. Did you freak out on your co-workers, slam the door, and leave in a huff? Maybe not so great, but hey! You didn’t swear ONCE! That’s a big step!
Find your Happy 9. Love the fact that you’re content with something that’s not perfect. Like my putting average.