If there were a golf God, I’d be pretty dejected with him (pardon the gender). Not sure whether it was PG Wodehouse or Jack Nicklaus who said, “Golf is not like religion…merely devotion is not enough”, but it’s a sobering thought for all of us who work on the game as if our lives depend on it—all the work might come to naught, at least if the yardstick is our handicap.
Even though I’ve been playing for the past 22 years, besides a purple patch of about a year when I miraculously played to a single digit, I’ve mostly been on the wrong side of breaking 90. And yet I’ve spent years, countless rounds hacking on courses around the world; beating balls at the range till my arms literally felt lifeless (just like Ben Hogan says they ought to be in the seminal Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf; pored over thousands of instruction articles in golf magazines; consistently exhausted my Internet data plans watching YouTube videos by coaches from around the world; practiced drills in front of the mirror; the list goes on. In short, if golf is a religion, I’ve surely done enough to book my chalet facing the 18th green on heaven’s layout.
Trouble is that there haven’t been any earthly rewards to my piety. And I know that every golfer who’s ever deliberated selling his or her clubs knows this feeling. I’m quite certain that I would have made a smashing success out of any other vocation I had shown such commitment to: had the machinations of commerce incited the same vigour and vim, I would certainly have been a multi-millionaire by now. You see such people around you, those who seem immersed in biopics of Warren Buffett and the like. These guys have real goals, and those have nothing to do with ball flight, or curbing an infernal slice.
Which is why when my brother—the only male member of the family who had stayed away from golf—announced his intention to start playing the game a few years back, I felt real concern; the kind you feel when your flesh and blood is embarking on a journey that threatens his well-being. Not only had he just started working for himself, the poor sod had also just tied the knot. “You’ll ruin everything if you take up golf at this juncture,” I remember telling him in all earnestness.
Of course, my advice wasn’t heeded: if we could live our lives based on second-hand wisdom, the world would suffer no angst—we all must pass through the fire. Five years down the line, not only is he hooked to game (much to the chagrin of his wife), but golf has completely hijacked every living room conversation in my parents’ house. And to make matters worse, he’s become a very good golfer in a very short time and that gives him an insufferable hauteur on the course and a propensity to offer unsolicited tips. Double whammy.
Of course, I’m venting, but that’s the dichotomy of it: while a good round, or even that one fantastic shot, can enliven the bleakest of days, a bad round can make you feel like there’s nothing right with the world. On such dark days, it takes a couple of post-round toddies to regain your composure and a couple more to change your mind about giving up the game. That’s when you run out of the clubhouse to ask your caddy to give back your clubs (he’s still there, knowing fully well that you would change your mind about letting him have your clubs). Swamped with relief, you realise that while there’s no doubt that golf has brought you more misery than pleasure, it has also shielded you from much worse. Heartbreak, work stress, financial mess, marital strife… no matter how big an affliction you were dealing with always disappeared on the first tee. With a club in your hand, everything else becomes minor and the only thought occupying your mind is how to rip one down the middle, or reading the slope on that treacherous putt. Life can wait, golf is serious business. Now, I admit it could be a case of sour grapes, but the more I think about this, the more I’m convinced that even a life spent playing bad golf is better than the one you could have had if you’d never touched a club. The whole loved and lost bit—you get the picture.
A sure-shot way to feel better after a bad round is to YouTube Tiger Woods flubbing his chips last year. It just gives you perspective: Woods is as close to a living incarnation of a golf God as there’s ever been, and there’s no shame in feeling some schadenfreude in the fact that he’s not exempt from being subjected to the game’s cruel fickleness.
As a parting shot, let me just say I’m not resigning myself to a future of below-average play—in fact, I feel much better now that I’ve vented on you, hapless readers (I won’t take it personally if you use this column to giftwrap fish).
The ‘Break 90’ plan begins tonight with a ceremonial cleaning of the grooves and rigorous scrubbing of the grips to demonstrate my eternal devotion (so pure that it’s divorced from selfish expectations). The following week will be devoted to range sessions, where I’ll be target-oriented rather than golf-swing-oriented (my thought process is ‘out-there’, says Bubba Watson), swinging through and not at the ball. In fact, after all this talk, I’m itching to hit the range, but I’ll be patient—just like Ben Hogan who did everything—brushing his teeth, walking and driving—slowly before a big round. Smooth and easy just like Ernie Els. I can see the ball taking off in my ‘mind’s eye’.
If there is really a golf God, and he’s listening, then this is just a friendly warning, not a threat. This is the last chance to keep a believer in your flock. Else I’m considering swimming—the pool opens next month.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game