“I think I’ve got it now” is what I hear my students say on occasion. When I hear this I think, ‘Oh no’, as I realize there is much golf pain in their near future. I try to help them avoid this upcoming frustration on the golf course with their misplaced expectations, telling them to remain strong when it gets tough out there and to expect bad shots, so on and so forth. However, my pleas fall on deaf ears as they are soothed inside ‘knowing’ their efforts in golf are about to be vindicated, and all will fall into place at their next golf outing.
Unfortunately, wanting something that is not in line with truth or its nature, leads to frustration. Being lulled into complacency is why I don’t bet on the person on the range who is hitting the ball great before a tournament, for there is only one way for their hitting to go from there – and it will. It’s not the poor shots that will ruin their game, it is their ill-prepared reactions of incredulous disbelief when the poor shots do arrive.
To side step these emotional land mines that lead to higher scores, I think one should view playing golf as a “War”: ‘You’ vs. ‘Golf’. You should strive to garner knowledge of your enemy, and to understand their tactics and strategy. If one wants to wear down the opposition, one must know and understand them.
Dominance and greatness in golf are not what you think they are. Proficiency in golf doesn’t mean eloquence and delivering spot on moves of 9s and 10s. In gymnastics and bowling, and even once in blue moon in baseball, perfection can be achieved – but that doesn’t exist in golf in any sense of the word. To know golf is to know it can’t be defeated, but only understood and contained. To understand golf is to realize its unpredictability, its endless challenges, the dozens upon dozens of moves in the golf swing that all need to sync up at the same time, the irregular golf course surfaces, the size of the ball compared with the size and speed of the club hitting it, and the demanding concentration and precision involved for over four hours of play. If one doesn’t know the enemy, one will be fooled and beaten into submission over and over.
Golf will throw many bad shots at you, trying to knock you off balance and break your will, usually with much success. On occasion, Golf will change its plan from outward assault to quiet deception, sedating the player into unready, laziness of mind. In this quiet deception, Golf’s strategy is summed up in one of Sun Tzu’s statements about war, “Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” And it is this form of trickery that Golf continually bestows, without fail, on its unwitting players, beating them down to the nub, and sometimes making them want to chuck their clubs into the nearest lake.
In this trickery, Golf gives their opponent a small taste of the delicious cake, a glimpse into how good it could be, with no intention of ever giving up the whole cake, or rarely even ever a piece of it. In occasionally offering bites of the sweet treat to appease our appetites, it keeps us interested, addicted, and coming back. It knows that with temptation comes weakness, so it whets our desire for more of the unimportant yet gratifying stuff, yet all the while protecting its true strength and well-being. It knows that after the bites are quickly devoured and forgotten, we start looking for the next bites like rabid dogs. The desperate search then goes on, endlessly seeking that which is only available in rare scraps.
When one stops searching for the titillating scraps of gratification, they can then focus on scoring, the point of golf. What we need to realize, is that as long as we are looking for that great feeling shot like we hit on the range 3 days ago, we are not in the shooting low frame of mind, which is the ultimate goal of playing golf. Golf will allow you to occasionally lob a cannon ball into its outside fortress to give you some false satisfaction and appeasement, only to bludgeon you several moments later when you are in la la land, with the unseen sword to the abdomen. Until you can learn to be ever-present in the shot at hand, getting the ball in the hole in any way possible, and focused on managing your bad shots to serve you, you won’t be able to protect and fortify your barricade from consistently stealthy assaults, and will go down every time.
Golf is a long war, a war of patience, a war of insight, a war where emotions don’t have a place. Until you are ready to engage in that war each and every time you step on a golf course, you won’t be correctly prepared, and Golf will squash your will and defeat You. So prepare for war when preparing to go play golf. You don’t go into war expecting the enemy to make things easy for you and pave the way do you? Do you go into war expecting things to go just as planned? If so, that’s a sure way to lose. One must be scrappy, resourceful, smart, and plan ahead for what is to come, yet continually be re-evaluating the situation.
Don’t do as the South did to lose the Battle of Gettysburg and turn the tide to the North’s favor in the Civil War. In that battle, the South thought they could just keep attacking and that inevitably the North would crumble as it had in all the battles up to that point. The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point because the Army of Virginia under General Robert E. Lee mistakenly engaged in it against their own strategy, knowing they should avoid it. All their decisions in that battle after that point had to ensue from a false position, a mistaken state of being where they shouldn’t have been coming from. Being errant human beings we tend to be biased toward our own abilities, thinking things will go as we see, and that more is on our side as we are better, smarter, and stronger than the enemy. It is good to be confident, but it must be confidence in that which we can affect and control, rather than wishful thinking. Confidence must be patiently earned, tempered with reality, and most importantly entails respecting, knowing, and understanding what one is up against. Don’t underestimate the enemy.