Read an Excerpt
Why Play Golf?
HOW A REALIZATION AS A SCHOOLBOY
HAS KEPT ME COMPETITIVE
FOR NEARLY 50 YEARS (AND THEN SOME)
When I was a boy in South Africa, I attended King Edward VII School in Johannesburg. My mother died when I was just eight years old. At the time, my father was busy working in the gold mines; my brother was off fighting in World War II alongside the British, Americans, and Canadians; and my sister was off at boarding school. I was alone a lot of the time, and my extracurricular activities at King Edward VII were often my only source of entertainment and amusement. I played everythingsoccer, rugby, cricket. I ran sprints and jumped hurdles. I was a springboard diver, and I participated in gymnastics. Sports and competition were my passion.
Eventually, my father took me out for my first round of golf on a course owned by one of the gold mining companies. I made pars on the first three holes I ever played. They were very easy holes, of course, but it didn't matter: I was hooked. The golf swing came very naturally to me, similar as it is to the one used in cricket.
As soon as I began playing golf on a regular basis, I came to a realization that I have been thankful for ever since. When I played golf, I realized, I was not subjecting my body to absurd amounts of abuse and punishment. Yes, I liked to push my body to keep fit, but only in a healthy way and on my terms. The fact that a person could be maimed and crocked (aswe say in South Africa) for the rest of his life by playing rugby or football or by boxing was not lost on me. High-speed collisions of human bodies and constant thumping on my brain, I knew, would eventually affect the quality of my life and probably shorten it as well.
It was this realization that led me to pursue golf, instead of the other sports of my youth, full time. Today, I am still going to the gym, pumping iron, watching my diet, working on my mental toughness, and trying to win golf championships. In fact, as these words are written, I am on a quest to win a professional golf tournament in a sixth consecutive decade. I have won major championships in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, yet, at the age of 65, I play on. This longevity reflects who I am, but more so, it reflects the graciousness of the game of golf. Golf truly opens its arms to all and gives you a lifelong opportunity to rise up, excel, and enjoy.
My years in golf have taught me another fundamental truth. Any person's life is enriched by the passionate pursuit of something. And in my mind, the best passions are those that last for a whole lifetime.
That makes most sports challenging passions to embrace. I'm sure you'll agree that there is nothing sadder than to come in contact with people who feel that their glory days are behind them, left on the high school football field 30 years ago or on the university baseball diamond. Even at the highest levels of most sportsthe place where people such as Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, and Joe Montana performedthe game leaves them in the lurch by their mid-30s. Joe Montana cannot get the same thrill out of playing catch that he did out of winning the Super Bowl. Michael Jordan cannot get the same spark from a pickup game that he did from winning the NBA Championship. And they are both still young men. People don't realize what a person goes through mentally once he realizes his body will no longer allow him to do the thing he loves most. It certainly must cause various forms of depression.
The passion we call our own takes on sundry versions for every person. It need not be athletic, although that is what I understand best. The important thing is to have that passion and to make sure it's one without time limitations attached to it. The possibilities for such a passion are plentiful. You can learn to play the piano no matter how old you are. You can develop an appreciation for gardening at any time and pursue it until you draw your final breath. You can even make a passion out of learning to cook gourmet (and healthy!) meals for you and your family, or of collecting and reading all of the classic writings known to man. All of these things are passions you cannot exhaust.
If your interests lie in the areas of sport and competition, however, golf can provide you with passion and longevity that know no peer in the world of sport. In other sports, athletes are over the hill by the time they reach their mid-30s. In golf, a fellow is just reaching his prime by this age, and that prime can continue for many more years. That includes you too, my friend. Even if you could hit the golf ball farther when you were 18 or 25, you weren't nearly as smart a player as you are now. You didn't have the acquired knowledge of successes and failures that you now have. Whatever age you are, you have the potential to be playing golf better than you ever have! Despite my years, I feel as if I just started playing the game. And I plan to keep on going for at least another 20 years. The challenge is still there and I can still respond to it.
Golf rewards you with the healthful side effects of long walks (and you should walk when you play) without the high-impact, downside risks you take with your physical well-being in other sports. The game of golf challenges your mind anew every single day and presents you with the ultimate opponent: yourself, I've always been amazed that people can derive so much satisfaction out of beating others when they have never taken the ultimate test of battling themselves.
It doesn't make sense to pursue any game other than golf when you consider that it will present you with the greatest mental and physical challenge of your life as far as difficulty is concerned, and that it will keep you entertained as long as you can get out of bed in the morning.
One of my heroes in life is Mother Teresa, the sainted nun of Calcutta. I remember reading about someone years ago asking her the question: Why do you live your life as you do? Her answer: "Why would I do otherwise?"
As to the question of "Why play golf?" I would suggest a similar answer. Why not play golf? Anyone can do it, and, as you will find out in the following pages, the rewards to the mind and the soul are endless.
Excerpted from The Golfer's Guide to the Meaning of Life by Gary Player. Copyright © 2001 by Gary Player. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.