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Learning to Live One Golf Swing at a Time
By J. Lang
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 J. Lang
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHOle #1, Par 5: THE STARTER
I always appreciate a good par five to get things going. There seems to be a calmer version of me standing on the first tee when I am looking down the fairway of a reachable par five shortly after the starter calls my name. Golfers, you know who I am talking about. The starter is that old retired guy in the little booth (with bad fluorescent lighting) who believes himself to wield unbelievable power over walk-on golfers. Yeah, he's that poor sucker with the thankless job of pairing the swearing crowd with the club throwers. What a great job. If only it paid enough to keep the lights on.
"The starter" is an obvious title, since without a visit to the starter's shack you don't get to play the game. In life it's not too different. In my life, there are really so many people who could carry this title. As far as golf is concerned, that title would have to be bestowed on my aunt Iris. She is the one who carried a bright-eyed, super-excited brat to his very first day on the links. I remember so much about that day that I could fill volumes—and so little about everything else at the time that it's scary. My parents were divorcing, and golf was an escape from the reality of that, if only for a little while at a time.
We were headed to play a little course in Dillon, South Carolina. My aunt was a member there, and she knew she could talk the pro shop clerk into allowing me on the course during ladies' day. I was going to caddie, according to her, and she would not let the course marshal say one bad thing about it, or he would risk losing her membership to another course. If I never said thank you to her about that, let me do that now.
Thank you, Aunt Iris.
So, at seven years of age, I was to caddie for a woman who knew her home course better than I knew my times tables—which may still be the case. I loaded her six-thousand-pound golf bag onto the cart, and off we went.
I don't remember the first hole. I wasn't playing, but I do remember checking in with the starter. To a seven-year-old, he was a god. You couldn't play on the finest grass on the planet without his initials on your receipt. He was the gateway to the course, and Aunt Iris was my gateway to golf.
When we got to the second hole, she looked over at me and said, "Are you gonna hit?"
Faster than I ever opened any Christmas present, I was on that tee box. I put my never-before-used Titleist ball on top of my never-before-used tee. I took a mighty lash at the ball and heard my aunt exclaim, "Damn!"
I don't think she knew I heard her, but that's right—the first word I heard after the first time I hit a ball on the golf course was a cuss word. She said it because I outdrove her in front of her friends. I heard it because no one in my family is any good at whispering.
And so we played. My first round of golf was sixteen holes. I didn't play the first or last holes, because those holes were too near the clubhouse and I wasn't a paying player. Maybe one of these days I'll go back and drop a twenty in the junior-program donation box.
The highlight of that day was a holed bunker shot on the tenth hole. I heard another choice word from my aunt, but this time it was either because I beat her on the hole or because I ran around that bunker celebrating so much that the rake job was going to take five minutes. She never yelled at me for that, but after she made me rake the bunker, I realized tracking up the sand trap was not the right way to celebrate.
You see, golf is full of lessons just like that bunker lesson from my aunt. It was that simple act of raking an entire bunker that helped me to respect the work done by others. I had never met the man who raked that trap before I played that day. Chances are he is no longer alive (it's been twenty-five years since then), but I learned that, throughout our lives, people work behind the scenes for our enjoyment, our safety, and our freedom. From the starter who sends us on our way to the maintenance crew who makes the course playable (I didn't say fair), may we always remember to respect the men and women who make our lives more complete.
I am eternally indebted to my aunt for helping me find the game of golf. It is through her that I found something I can be passionate in pursuing, yet if I want to, I can also just go out on a Sunday afternoon with my dad and lose a few balls.
People say golf is just a game. I only hope that golf takes hold of them as it did me. This "game" will get inside you. It will make you laugh, cry, cuss, pray, make deals with God for a putt to fall, blame a mosquito for farting in your backswing, and so many other things you'd never trade for anything. Some of my best and worst moments ever have come on a golf course. I am really looking forward to the other seventeen holes we have to play together.
HOLE #1 SWING KEYS:
Who is your starter? Who will get you in the game? If you're waiting for clearance to play, stop waiting. Whatever you are doing with your life—or your game, for that matter—will never be completed if it is not started. I am not here to dish out advice. You have to pay your own green fee in life. I am not pretending that writing a book makes it okay for me to tell you to jump right in and grab your dreams. What I am telling you is that you need to make a decision and enjoy the round, and if you get paired up with the swearing club thrower, duck!
Hole #2, Par 4: SCORECARD AND A PENCIL
As I was playing my local club last week, something hit me that, as I look back, should have registered well before I thought about writing down all these bits about how life imitates golf into book form. I was dumbfounded at just how many places my local club offers a golfer a chance to pick up a scorecard and a pencil.
As I purchased some tees and a new glove for the round, I noticed that a holder full of both scorecards and pencils was sitting next to the register. Did I grab one of each? No, I merely collected my change and went to check in with the starter.
"Hi, Joe," I said as I handed my yellow starter copy to the weekend first-tee attendant.
"Good morning, Joe," he said back to me with the enthusiasm reserved for a funeral. It was a beautiful morning, and I knew he would have rather spent it playing golf than counting the number of weekend warriors with pipe dreams of driving the first green.
As Joe handed me back my initialed copy of the receipt, I looked down at the box of scorecards on the ledge of the starter shack. Did I grab one? No, not this time either. I took for granted that the cart crew would place one on the steering wheel under the clip designed for scorecards and pencils.
After loading up the cart and teeing off, I noticed that there was no scorecard on the cart. Being a nice guy, I didn't want to delay the group behind me more than required, so I refused to take the ten steps back to the starter shack for a scorecard.
"Just get one at the second-tee mailbox, kid," I muttered to myself.
I proceeded to knock my second shot stiff and made the birdie.
"Now I have to keep score," I said to my putter. Since I had made the putt, I was on speaking terms with my flat stick. I did let my putter know at that time that it was instantly replaceable should it decide to go cold on me.
So our group pulled up to the second tee. Sitting next to the tee was a ball washer, a water cooler, and the mailbox of scorecards and pencils. Did I grab one? Heck, no. I had to make sure no one stole my honors. Don't jump in front of my birdie, or you might wake up with a divot on your pillow. I hit my tee shot just a little left of right center and ran back to the cart. Hole number two was a reachable par five, and I needed to hit that second ball before I lost my swing. So let's get moving, boys.
Halfway down the fairway, I realized I still hadn't gotten a scorecard. What a ——! (Insert choice golf expletive here.)
It was just after I missed the green with my second shot that I realized that not having the scorecard was actually becoming a distraction. I don't know why. I think, more than anything, that I realized how many chances I'd had to get one and still hadn't done it.
Finally, the drink-cart girl came by on the fourth hole. To my surprise, the course keeps about twenty cards and pencils stocked on the drink cart for guys having mornings like the one I was having. I paid for our drinks and made sure to grab two scorecards and two pencils, one for today and one for the bag—just in case I ever have another bypass morning.
HOLE #2 SWING KEYS:
There are two main thoughts I have for this reading.
Are you more like the course? Do you give people so many chances to get what they need from you that you actually create more work for yourself? It takes someone more than just a few minutes each day to reload scorecards in all the places my local course puts them for golfers to grab. I'm not saying that it's wrong to be nice to people, but really, how many chances did I miss to get the thing I needed at that moment? Personal responsibility has to come into play sometime, or so you would think.
Are you going through life as I went through the early part of my round the other day? Do you neglect to realize how many people in your life are there trying to help you? Do you forget to see all the places in your life where what you need is set out right there in front of you?
On this day, golf taught me to respect a little more the time others invest in me. Nothing in life is an accident. People reach out to us all the time. Do we overlook them? Do we even realize they are there for us?
Hole #3 Par 4: UNLUCKY PRECISION
The other day, I was playing with a student of mine at Banyan Tree Golf Course, in Okinawa, Japan. Phil O. was in for his nine-hole playing lesson, and he wanted to discuss strategy for an upcoming tournament.
As I watched Phil hit his second shot, I thought to myself that now would be a good time to discuss the concept of safe shots versus flagsticks that you should fire at. He was playing overly cautiously, and I think it was what Phil thought I wanted him to do.
"Phil, I believe that was a good pin to shoot at. You had a good angle and no danger left or right. Also, the slope of the green would have still rewarded a shot that went a little long." I told him this as I grabbed a club and prepared to hit my own shot.
"Well, Joey, I didn't want you to get on me for flag hunting this early in the round." His reply came with a little barb on it.
"I know I said you couldn't win a three-day tournament on the first day, but you could lose it, Phil, so you still have to pick spots to produce. There are going to be places every day of the tournament that will tempt you to a little more aggressive line, and there will be pin locations that you will not be able to fire at. I want you to examine the opportunities as they come and ask yourself, "Will the aggressive shot invite trouble?" If the answer is no, Phil, I want you to fire at the hole. If a mistake on an aggressive shot brings a big number into play, hit it to the fat part of the green and smile when you walk away with par."
"Okay, Joey, but you know I'm going to beat you the rest of the round." "I hope you do, Phil. But you'd better be prepared to earn it, because this pin is calling my name."
I lined up my shot, determined to show my student the line I wished he had taken moments earlier. I hit the shot crisply and watched the ball take off toward the pin. The ball descended right on the mark. Neither Phil nor I spoke as we watched the ball head straight for the cup.
Whack! The ball hit the flagstick and ricocheted twenty feet down hill and slightly right of the green. In a moment, I had gone from elation at the thought of holing a shot from the fairway for eagle to the slightly gut-punched feeling of getting up and down from heavy rough.
Phil and I looked at each other and laughed. "Where did that fit into your assessment of the opportunity?" he asked.
Crickets chirped. I had no witty response to his question, so I let it die. I got up-and-down for par to validate my "aggressive line didn't create trouble" theory and shook my head as we walked over to the fourth-tee box.
After a couple of days, I finally had the response for Phil that I felt the shot had warranted. Many times in life, and golf, we set goals or targets. Nobody, I hope, sets these objectives without the true intent of reaching them. The pin was not my target, the hole was. Hitting the pin indicated that my direction was true but that I had overshot my goal. A foot shorter and I would have been celebrating eagle. A foot longer and I would have flown over the stick without hitting it and the ball come to rest in easy birdie range, maybe even spinning back into the hole for eagle. The fact is, we were both impressed with the shot at the time—it was just "unlucky precision," as Phil called it.
HOLE #3 SWING KEYS:
Do you have the clearest picture of your goals in mind?
In golf it is the flagstick and the hole that combine to give us the picture of our goal. The flag indicates the direction we should strive to send our shot toward, while the hole gives us the finality of the distance required to achieve success.
If there is no finality, make your goals clearer. It is not enough to have mere direction. Ensure that you have a purpose (direction or pin) and an ultimate destination (final success, or the hole) in mind.
Hole #4 Par 4: GOLFING WITH MY WIFE
For many golfers reading this, the title of this hole will suffice to tell the story and allow me to move on to the next hole. Most men will, unfortunately, read "Golfing with My Wife" and reflect on suppressed memories of the most painful day they can remember in their entire golfing careers. But there is a lesson to be learned from joining your spouse on the course, and it doesn't have to be negative.
Many years back, and quite early in my marriage, I talked my wife into joining me for a pleasant day on the links. The temperature in early May in Northern California was enough to coax her out of the house, and I was looking for any way I could to play more golf. So after I agreed to do the dishes that night, she decided to put up with four hours on the course. Little did she know that I was going to turn her into a golfer.
My wife stayed in the cart reading a book during my warm-up and also during the play of the first three holes. Conversation was minimal at best and sounded something like this:
"Did you see that shot, Honey?" I asked.
"Oh, it was magnificent, babe," she replied.
"You weren't even looking. I hit the damn thing in the water."
"Well, the splash was nice."
I refused to ruin the day getting mad at my wife's apathy toward my favorite pastime. So I teed up another ball and finished the third hole.
As I returned to the cart, I asked, "Would you like to hit a shot on the next hole?"
She undoubtedly felt trapped by the question, but she relented to hit a tee ball on the next hole.
The fourth hole at Cypress Lakes is a dog-leg right, par four, with a small lake on the inside of the corner and waste areas to the right. I handed her a slightly used ball, and she got mad.
"I want a new ball. You're hitting new golf balls. Don't give me your old worn-out golf balls to hit!"
"Sweetheart, there's water out there, and you're new to the game. I don't have a lot of new golf balls that I can let you lose for me."
"I'm not hitting this worn-out piece of junk. Give me a shiny one or I'll just sit in the cart."
"Fine, here is a new Titleist Tour Prestige. Don't lose it!"
She teed up the ball a little too high, but I wasn't going to say anything else to her for fear of losing a different kind of ball. She waggled excessively and made an unbelievable pass at the ball. My jaw dropped. The ball sailed high into the air directly toward the corner of the dog-leg. The ball cleared the mound on the corner and ended up in the fairway about 80 yards from the green. She had just hit a Callaway strong four-wood over 205 yards. It was simply astonishing.
"Was that good or something?" She finally broke the silence.
"Good? That was amazing!" I couldn't believe the shot she had just hit.
My wife got back in the cart and didn't hit another ball that day. In fact, in the last ten years she has only been to the driving range three times and maybe hit a total of fifty balls in that entire span of time. The shot she hit that day would have made a golfer out of almost anyone on the planet, but not her. She was not excited or overwhelmed by the quality of that shot. The golf bug didn't bite.
It took me a long time to learn a lesson from this golf experience, but I did. Golf was my dream. A career playing and teaching the game was what I wanted. Golf does not interest my wife, and that's okay. No matter how much I might wish for her to take up the game so we can have a grow-old-together activity, I'll survive if she doesn't. We can all learn something from this, even if it's painful.
Excerpted from Learning to Live One Golf Swing at a Time by J. Lang Copyright © 2012 by J. Lang. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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