Earlier this year, a friend and I got paired up at a local course with a guy who was possibly the most negative golfer I’ve ever met.
He was a good player with a bad attitude. Every shot wasn’t good enough, and his anger kept rising throughout the day, to the point where I almost felt it necessary to tell him to knock it off.
But among the many things he said that teed me off, there was this one in particular:
“That’s what this (expletive) game does to you. It wears you down. You’ll never be as good as you were. I used to be a great player. Now, my game is (expletive)!”
No, it’s your attitude that’s … we’ll leave the choice words to you, pal.
The greatest thing about golf, I contend, is that you can play it all your life. And, yes, you can joke that it’s one of the worst things about our great game, too. We’re generally not going to be better now than we were in our younger days.
But I beg to differ – no, I shout my objection – to the idea that the more you play golf, the worse you get and the more you dislike it. It can be the exact opposite if you just keep things in perspective.
Golf is like a great relationship with another human being. Sometimes, you have to hang in there with it and work out the rough spots. The effort will be worth it when you gain a lifelong friend. And think how well you’ll age together!
I got turned on to this topic Sunday when I saw how Angela Stanford won the Evian Championship – her first major.
She is 40 years old.
She finished her day eagle/double bogey/birdie/par after a birdie putt that practically circled the cup without going in. (Sounds like something I would do – a disaster amid the greatness, with a little heartbreak thrown in for good measure.)
Amy Olson needed to par the 18th to win and instead made double bogey to lose — with a three-putt, of course. Remember what I wrote a few weeks back about the components of a blow-up hole? That nasty three-putt always seems like part of the equation.
As Olson’s weak bogey putt struggled to even get a look at the cup and faded to the low side, Stanford broke down in tears. She could barely talk during the television interview.
Any aging golfer could identify with that.
Winning a major in your 40s is rare on the pro tours, and yet many aging pros keep playing and keep taking home pretty decent paychecks. By taking care of themselves and using what they’ve learned over the years, success is possible.
Now apply that to those of us who are on the wrong side of 60.
I don’t hit the ball as far as I used to. I hit it far enough, but I get frustrated when I’m never in contention in the long-drive contests anymore.
Happened just the other day when I was playing in a scramble. I crushed one on the long-drive hole. Really got all of it. But it was out there only 280 yards, and the long-drive sign was 15 yards ahead of me – where I used to be able to hit it, where someone younger had hit it this time.
And you know what? I’m OK with that. I don’t hit it as far, but I tend to hit it straighter.
I hit a few more odd-looking shots than I used to. Again, it happened just the other day. Another unsightly shank – on a chip shot, of all things. No idea how I did it. I had just hit a string of good to really good shots. And then the Shank Monster pops out of nowhere.
I’m OK with that, too. It just means I have to go back to the chipping green and get the sight of good chip shots in my memory bank.
I don’t score quite as consistently as I used to. For years, the goal was to break 80. Now, I can’t recall the last time I did that. Just getting within sight of 80, like Amy Olson’s big putt Sunday, feels like a victory.
Again, I’m OK with it. I’ve compensated by playing the white tees most of the time. Why punish yourself by playing it all the way back when you don’t have the necessary power in your bag anymore? The goal is to have fun out there.
But the bottom line is that I still dream.
I dream of my first hole-in-one. Surely, after all these years, I’m due.
I dream of getting it going one day and putting up a really low number. Why not? I hit it straighter, I have a better short game and I tend to make wiser decisions.
But, mainly, I dream of playing more great courses or going back to the great ones I enjoyed the most – the ones in Scotland, particularly.
Angela Stanford kept dreaming, and look what happened. Even when it appeared that she merely would come close again, fate smiled upon her.
In my book, that’s what golf can do to you if you just give it a chance. It’s not meant to be easy, but life isn’t, either. It shouldn’t wear you down, it should pick you up. It should be joyous no matter how old you are … and no matter how good you once were.