For those who play it, there’s no truer microcosm for life’s travails than the game of golf
“We bow to the inevitable. We’re not wheat, we’re buckwheat! When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it’s dry and can’t bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat’s got sap in it and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up almost as straight and strong as before…”
I know. Even as I write this, my better half is rolling her eyes at what she perceives as my single-minded obsession to see everything through the prism of the game. But you, dear golfer, surely you understand clearly what Margaret Mitchell was talking about. Even though the setting in which these lines were uttered in her epic romantic historical romance, Gone with The Wind, was different, these fit right in when you’re teaching a youngster how to deal with a missed putt or, for that matter, hitting a provisional ball out of bounds. Golf is cruel, more so than life sometimes. And how you deal with your failures at the game will define the kind of player you end up becoming.
For most of us, work ethic is a golf term. And because the game is such a good teacher, you learn to apply it to other facets of your life. Like your professional vocation: you go to work everyday, and make sure that you organise your tasks and schedule all meetings in a manner that you’re done on time. There’s no scope for laxity here—the range closes by nine at night and it’s an hour’s drive to get there. You get there with half an hour to spare, hurriedly get through one bucket of balls and are appalled by your substandard quality of ball striking. You walk off, head bowed, muttering to yourself and wondering what drives you to invest so much of your time, money and mindspace in the game. A few hours later, when everyone has gone to bed, you sneak out to the living room to watch archival footage of Sam Snead’s wonderfully fluid action. You know precisely what you must try at the range the next day.
None of those epiphanies work when you get to the course on the weekend. Here, you realise that playing the game is very different from what you’ve been working on at the range. Playing the game requires you to trust yourself and your abilities. It needs imagination and visualisation, tact and touch, and more than anything, it needs you to make hard decisions. Hitting the golf ball is just the start of it: all that does is equip you with the tools to play. Playing the game is, well, a different ball game.
So in the evening, at your yoga class, when your teacher quotes Iyengar to make a point about how asanas are just a small part of yoga and the purpose is simply ‘to equip the body, a vehicle fit for the soul’, you know precisely what she’s talking about. You think about telling her about how the poses also help with a full shoulder turn on the backswing, and how that has a cascading effect on the quality of your life. But you don’t. Only golfers would understand that. Yoga, in fact, does more than help with flexibility. You remember a glorious day when, after a morning class, you had this sense of otherworldly serenity that spilled over to your round later in the day. Your only swing thought that day had been to breathe, to stay calm and detached from outcomes. Yoga is magical for golf. You don’t accompany your friends for a meditation session. What you don’t tell them is that nothing can teach you to stay in the moment better than the game. In fact, it teaches you to stay in the moment under duress, in the face of distractions, and while using your mind. Golf is meditation on steroids.
Like any other relationship, golf and you have come a long way since you started as a gawky teenager interested solely in hitting the ball as hard as you could. In your 20s, you used it for escapism—whether it was to get over heartbreak or avoid introspection. In your 30s, you realised that the game had been holding up a mirror to you and brought into focus your failings and strengths. But like a good shrink, the game allowed you to get to those realisations on your own. And now, as you near the end of that decade, you understand finally what humility really means. It doesn’t mean self-disparagement.
Your better half remembers what she thought at the time was a strange conversation—when the two of you had just met—in which you tried, rather unsuccessfully, to communicate the unimpeachable place the game occupies in your life. She has more clarity now and, rather than feel enraged at your frequent disappearing acts, is secretly just happy to get you out of her hair for a few hours. And even understands that any audible comments about how lovely the weather seems can mean only one thing. If anything else, the game has brought the two of you closer.
You’ve always known that golf was going to be good for your relationships. Your love affair with golf is, in fact, a glowing testament of your ability to commit to a relationship… And stick with it, for better or for worse, through good times and bad. Worse, most of the time, when you think of it. But boy, when it’s been good, it’s been better than good. It’s the best thing in the world.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game