It was a dreary Sunday winter afternoon in 2003; by conventional wisdom, perfect for staying in, curling up by the hearth, sipping coffee and reading a book, and not stepping out. As better-halves of most inveterate golfers will attest, we are not bound by conventional wisdom, some might even consider us foolhardy in our single-mindedness when it comes to teeing it up, especially after a work week spent refining swing thoughts for that all-important game on the weekend.
So it was that day, while most of Delhi’s denizens got quality family time indoors, a handful of intrepid souls, clad in multiple layers, gingerly cradling glasses of hot tea were seen disappearing into the mist on the first fairway of the Qutab Golf Club.
There had been no time to set up a game, and your columnist was asked by the Marker to pair up with a senior gentleman who was already running down the elevated tee after hitting his drive. Pre-occupied by swing thoughts and trying to ward off first-tee jitters, I mumbled a quick introduction and self-deprecatingly apologised to the gentleman for holding him up; the dip in confidence, a remnant of the last round’s carnage.
Much to everyone’s surprise, that first drive whooshed into the mist, straight, long and true. A pitching wedge approach to two feet—the best I’ve ever hit on that hole—and a short putt later, I had a birdie, and a swell of confidence. To cut a long story short, and this story sticks in the memory only on account of what I shot that day—a one-under 70—it turned out to be one of those rare days when you can do no wrong. Every shot came off as intended; and the few that didn’t got a lucky bounce (or a lucky ricochet off a tree!)—golfing nirvana, we’ve all been there.
The only witness to this once-in-a-lifetime performance, who I shall refrain from naming here, was, as expected, mighty impressed. Considering that I was entirely ‘in-the-zone’, there wasn’t that much conversation between the two of us except the perfunctory niceties on the greens, and when he gave me his card at the end of the day—director with an NGO—I pocketed it without a second look, thanked him for the game, and went back to mentally recounting every shot I’d hit every day.
Cut to mid-2004, I was a newbie in a big media house, and trying to find my feet in a corporate set-up. Walking across diminutively across the executive floor,
I suddenly heard someone roar my name from the office of the executive director, startling the hushed tones that were par for the course in the vicinity of the big man.
You know what’s coming next; he pulled out his putter and we had a short conversation on Ben Crenshaw’s stroke, he wished me luck, and indicated that we should chat more often.
In the year that followed, we never played again, and besides a couple of meetings, never met in a professional capacity, but the trickle-down effect of that meeting was immeasurable. It made me much more comfortable in my new work environment, and, for everyone else, singled me out amongst the sea of young interns, trying to make an impression. The ED never did me any favours, but just the fact that we were friendly, as equals, made all the difference.
What’s apparent to me when I look back on this exchange is that given the difference in our ages, and experience, there was literally no platform on which the ED and I could have met on equal standing. Except, when it came to golf. I like to recount this anecdote when young corporate executives I meet speak to me about wanting to play golf to network and get ahead. My point is this: all you can really count on is the probability of running into someone who might have some relevance in your work life. And assuming, you acquit yourself well, not just with your skills but the way you conduct yourself, it could lead to a relationship that might have surprising effects.
Crucially, what most people who don’t play the game (and want to for networking) don’t understand is the nature of the game, and what it can do to your psyche. Golf extracts sweet revenge from would-be players with ulterior motives: it’s not a game as much as it’s an obsession, and in the process of trying to learn and get better, most people get completely absorbed in the pursuit, often to the detriment of work and family. It takes a while to realise that this quest is a lifelong one, and most of us learn to balance our madness for the game with other commitments. Along the way, you meet other people on the same pilgrimage, and that’s the crucible in which relationships are forged. Relationships forged on the golf course are, first and most importantly, about golf; being reduced to the same level, shorn of corporate designations; of being afflicted equally by the game’s cruelties, and the rare victories. There’s no better way to end that relationship, even before it begins, than by bringing up work-related talk with someone you’ve just met on the golf course. That will immediately identify you as an imposter—who has little chance at getting ahead, neither with the game, nor with climbing the corporate ladder on the golf course.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game