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Friday, November 29, 2013

Lessons from the Links

I squeezed in a 2nd solitary 18 holes Thursday before the annual mid-afternoon Thanksgiving feast, and I again played a very satisfactory game of golf.  It wasn't spectacular.  Nothing amazing happened.  I shot 93, missed a few putts I should have made but didn't, needed to conjure up the Magic of Flora, my aged 11-wood (whose pink flamingo head cover gave the club her name), to get me out of a couple of waste areas and back into the short grass, but made no ball offerings to the water hazards and put a few pars on my card.

For me, solitary golf opens up mental spaces that are occupied with immediate matters when I golf with others.

In the company of other golfers I'm almost always competing and wagering, posturing, blustering, and filtering; and I am also counting and planning and gaming out alternative scenarios when I would play a better game by focusing on my ball and my club and the shot I'm about to take, the most important shot in my round as Annika Sorenstam reminded Judy Rankin one day during their Evian Championship television commentary.  It's so easy to forget that simple axiomatic truth when golfing with others.

Alone, with only the ball, the club, and the world around me for company, I'm more focused on immediate issues related to course management.  Which way is the fairway rolling?  If I miss the shot, where do I want to be for my next shot?  Can I take advantage of that hilly slope to edge my ball closer to the green on the next shot?  How much of an adjustment do I need to make with the ball severely above my feet to execute a straight shot?  How far to the right of the pin do I need to send my chip in order to get a positive benefit from the green's slope left toward the canal?  In short, I take my time and plan my shots more thoughtfully when I'm playing solitary golf.

Golf is a game designed to be played in groups and certainly most golfers I know prefer to golf in the company of others.  I'm certainly not a 21st Century female version of Henry David Thoreau, but I do know there's much to be learned about the game and about myself during a round of solitary golf.  During the depths of his personal crisis several years ago, Tiger Woods was reported to be golfing not only alone but at night.  Like almost everything else, there's an internet form for Playing Golf Alone.   Clearly, I'm not the only golfer who's discovered the peaceful, productive solitude of a solo round.

So, a couple of day-late Thanksgiving Day lessons from the links, more intended for my grandchildren and my other 20-something readers than for my more seasoned readers (I believe my grandchildren read my bog -- at least they make an occasional comment that's led me to believe this is the case).

In the game of golf, I've often made the mistake of standing on the first tee and projecting the [usually triumphant and spectacular] outcome at the conclusion of my final putt.  That, I've realized during my solitary rounds, is a fatal mistake.  I play my best golf when I stay in the moment surrounding the immediate shot and let the final putt take care of itself when I finally get there.  Between the first tee and the 18th green, I'm working on the immediate demands of the game.  I suspect the same could be opined about life.

In the game of golf, risk-management is the key to avoiding great disasters and great losses, but the converse doesn't seem to be also true.  Risk-taking rarely yields the return I envision.

I am occasionally seduced by my own dreams of glory into attempting a shot that would leave Suzann Pettersen breathless if she made it.  I'm rarely, if ever, capable of executing those kinds of shots, and the results of those ill-advised heroic attempts tend to compound the problems I am already facing.   There's a huge difference between Shanshan Feng's unbelievably lucky bounce onto the 18th green in Beijing and my attempt to squeeze 15 more yards out of my pitching wedge than it's ever delivered.  Feng nailed a birdie and won the Reignwood on her lucky shot.  (In case you missed it the first time around, here it is again.)  I inevitably over-swing and send my ball to to a place that costs yet another 2 shots to get back into position and leaves me walking off the green feeling pitifully grateful for a triple bogey.

Given the option, I stay in the short grass.  It's not only easier.  It's not only safer.  These are both true, but the bottom line is that it's also the way to win in the game of golf.