I have been playing golf since college and while it has not always been easy to find my “A” game on the course it has always been a learning process. In this post I’d like to share seven lessons I've learned from the game of golf.
1. Patience You have to learn patience to succeed in golf quite simply because it takes time (at least for me it did) to learn the fundamentals of the golf swing and the techniques of putting, chipping, and driving the golf ball. Having learned patience by practicing and mastering some of these techniques you also need the patience to play a round of golf since in most cases you will be playing with other golfers both in your group and on the course and many of these players will be slower than you!
2. Honesty Like any other game golf is governed by rules. But, unlike many other sports golfers enforce the rules on themselves. Even in professional tournaments with referees and observers, there are countless stories of golfers assessing penalties on themselves because they broke one of the rules. Golf is a game where you are playing against yourself constantly trying to improve. But, improvement doesn’t mean anything if it’s not an honest improvement. If, after years of playing you are finally on the verge of breaking 80 (as I am), doing so by fudging a stroke here or there or by not taking that penalty stroke for hitting the ball into the water hazard diminishes the accomplishment.
3. Acceptance If you want to understand the ancient philosophy of the Stoics I suggest that you take up golf. There is no quicker way to learn the value of acceptance. In golf, you have to hit the ball where it lies and there are only certain cases where you can take relief from your lie. So, each shot requires that you accept where the ball is and play those conditions. As Epictetus once said, “people are not disturbed by things, but by the views which they take of things.”
4. Embracing Challenges Closely related to the previous lesson and perfectly captured by the Epictetus quote is the lesson of being able to embrace challenges. Jack Nicklaus once told the story of being in the clubhouse and listening to various golfers complaining about the course conditions that day. The rough was too high, the bunkers too deep, the fairways too narrow, the wind too strong. But, one golfer was not complaining but rather eager to face the conditions that day. Jack knew this was the golfer that would prevail on that day. If you can look upon difficulties as challenges and opportunities instead of impediments your chances for success increase greatly.
5. Managing your Mistakes Everyone who plays the game makes mistakes. Making mistakes is after all part of life. But, the key to success, in golf and life, is to manage those mistakes so they don’t become worse than they are. In golf, that means if you hit your drive into the woods don’t always try to make your next shot heroic by going for the green. Sometimes you have to accept your fate (see lesson 2 above) and minimize your mistake by chipping back out onto the fairway and moving on.
6. Perspective Above all, golf teaches the proper perspective for things in life. Golf, after all, is just a game. It can be fun and it can be frustrating. But, so too can life. The secret is to keep trying and not get frustrated. As the great golf teacher Harvey Penick once said “if you play poorly one day, forget it.” Everyone has bad days. But, tomorrow’s another day.
7. Courtesy Etiquette is an important part of the game. You don’t talk when someone else is addressing the ball. You don‘t stand on someone else’s line when putting. You don’t pull for someone to miss their shot. You don’t point out bad shots someone makes and you compliment good ones. Being polite goes a long way both on and off the golf course. Like the other lessons, this one applies to life in general. Keep smiling and keep playing!
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
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