Everyone who has played golf for a long time knows that the clock is always ticking on your ability to play consistently well. I’ve never known anyone who was a good player in their 20s and was even better 40 years later. Father Time is undefeated.
The constant compensation our great game requires isn’t just shot to shot, it’s decade to decade and era to era. The sooner we learn how to deal with that, the more we’re going to enjoy the transition – or at least be able to live with it.
If you’re an older player (let’s say 55 and above), ask yourself this question:
When’s the last time you shot a score you would have considered OK when you were younger?
Last week? Last month? Last year?
After my latest round, I realized I fall in the memory-challenged category. I can’t recall the last time I broke 80. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I came close to breaking 80.
I realized that, in my mind, I stink.
For years, I considered the 80 mark my dividing line between a good round and one that was average or worse. I’d guess that I’ve shot what I consider average – 80, 81 or 82 – at least 50 times.
I would keep my score in my head, and I always knew what I had to do on the last few holes to get under 80. It was so frustrating to fritter away the opportunity with a late bogey or, worse yet, a big number. I’m ashamed to say that on more than a few occasions I left the course steaming.
Now I find it difficult to keep track of my score without checking the scorecard, not because I’m getting senile but because the numbers keep getting larger and larger.
Just as 80 used to be the key number, 40 for nine holes was critical, too. Break 40, I always reasoned, and I had a chance to reach my goal.
Sadly, more and more I find myself just trying to get under even bogeys, which on a par-36 nine equals a 45. I used to think 45 was terrible. Now it’s the norm.
Too often, I can count my pars in a round on one hand … even though I’m now hitting from the white tees after using the back tees for so many years.
But when I sat down and started examining what’s different between now and 40 years ago, I came up with a lot of reasons.
First, I’m not hitting the ball as far. Every shot is at least one club more, sometimes two, than the old days. Those big drives I used to hit aren’t going as far despite the new technology I’m swinging, which means my shot to the green is longer.
And even when I do put myself in position to have a short iron in my hands, I’ve completely lost the confidence to execute that shot. I used to expect to get it close from 150 yards on in. Now I’m just trying to hit the green – and often miss badly.
What makes my newfound stinktitude even more perplexing is the fact that I’m a much better putter than when I was young. The left-hand-low grip has totally changed my attitude on the green. And I STILL can’t score.
It’s not difficult to see the biggest reason of all for not playing well: I haven’t been playing as much as before, and I certainly don’t practice as much. I used to work nights, so weekdays often were my prime time to play golf. Never did a week go by without at least one round; I often got in two or three plus some practice.
Working a 9-to-5 job has changed all that. It has proved challenging to find time to play on weekends, and any thought of getting in a few holes after work has been quashed by more pressing needs on the job.
But here’s where it gets interesting … and where my experience might be useful to you:
Despite everything that’s going wrong in my game, I love golf more than ever. Every time I play, no matter how bad I’m hitting the ball, I find a sense of wonderment when I consider what golf is all about.
I celebrate the good shots. I simply try to rally from the bad ones. And when the course gets the better of me, I make a joke about it and move on to the next hole.
“It’s still a wonderful game” is my trademark expression after a double bogey or worse.
Maybe it’s bad to admit that I’m at peace with stinking. Maybe I should find the time to practice more often (no doubt that would be a good thing). Maybe I should take a lesson. Maybe I should buy new irons.
I’ve thought about doing any and all those things. It sure would be nice to at least scare 80 again.
But there’s one thing I’m going to do above everything else: I’m going to keep celebrating every single round, and I’m always going to look forward to the next one.
Score doesn’t matter – just having the privilege to keep playing is good enough for me. In my view, there’s just no other way to do it.
Because it’s still a wonderful game.