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by Gunny
Rated: E · Article · Experience · #1306229
How I learned to stop being a control freak.
This is a revised version of The Maddening Game of Golf I have re-written much of the original piece.


All I have to do is get on the green and two putt.  If not, we're out of the final round on Sunday. 

With my nine-iron, I lined up to the green and stood over the ball.  My knees were jelly, and my arms were beginning to shake.  I can't stand over this ball all day.  I've got to hit it now.  My last thought before I struck the ball was,  please don't go into the woods.

True to my last thought, it took off at a hard left angle and went straight into the woods.  We never did find it.  Thanks to me we were out of the tournament.

My father taught me golf, God rest his golf-loving soul.  His advice, though well-meant, was more suited to a different era.  What he taught me was a litany of myths that have circulated around the game since Scotsmen began hitting a stone around the pastures with their shepherd crooks.  Most of what he knew, he had figured out for himself.  But in golf, what's good for one is not necessarily good for everyone. 

Whenever I played in serious competition my head filled with:  Keep your left arm straight; hesitate at top of your swing; keep your head down; shift your weight to the front just before you start your downswing;  turn your wrists, turn your hips, don't turn this, don't turn that--until I felt that a Chimpanzee wandering around with a stick in its hand could probably do better.

Tired of always feeling incompetent, always frustrated, and above all, never able to control my swing or its results, I hung up the spikes and retired the clubs to a remote corner of the garage.

Once bitten, however, like in the movie 'Alien', there's a golf larvae that enters the mind and eventually matures.

After twenty years my larvae matured.  I was 'compelled' to return to the game. But the thought of teeing up in front of the other three in our foursome almost made me turn the car around and go back home.  Almost, but I just could not resist the call.

I met up with my foursome and after introductions all around, we sized each other up in our minds.  I was not confident.  When it was my turn, I teed up and swung.  I watched in horror as the ball took a drastic banana turn to the right heading into the clubhouse parking lot.  Cringing, I imagined the ball smashing into someone's windshield.  With my luck it would be some gorilla's brand new Jaguar or BMW.  The imagined disaster never materialized. 

Later that morning, I actually made some shots that I could be proud of.  I tried to remember exactly what I had done so I could repeat those swings.  Of course, there is no way to exactly reproduce the thousands of mental and muscular minutia involved.  After all, from beginning to end, the golf swing only lasts one-and-half-seconds. 

My high score did nothing to dampen my spirits.  I still longed to learn to make those shots that would make my playing partners' jaws drop.
I enrolled in a clinic at the local driving range.  The golf pro was a retired high school teacher who had coached award-winning golf teams.  He was old and arthritic and could barely walk to the practice area, but once he warmed up (which he emphasized over and over as being most important), he could make the most spectacular, high arching accurate shots I have ever witnessed.  As I watched each ball soar majestically high and impossibly long, I swear I could hear supernal choirs of angels in my head.
I practiced so much that I wore out two gloves in as many months.  At eight bucks a pop I learned to swing without a glove.  The calluses I developed were stony hard and blackened from the rubber grips.  I worked hard, ignoring the persistent pain in my gouty knees.

I read as much as I could about the golf swing, and watched all the pros who impressed me: Reteif Goosen, Ernie Els, and Tiger.

In my obsessive search for that perfectly oiled swing I purchased new clubs and training aids: DVDs, practice balls, catch nets, hinged and/or weighted practice clubs---anything that woud help me develop that graceful fluid motion that would produce those awe-inspiring shots.

A year later, I thought I had come up with 'THE' swing.  I had practiced for hours, and more hours, and more on top of that.  Without realizing it, I had slipped back into a lot of my old habits.  Practice, they say, makes perfect, but I didn't know I was practicing the wrong stuff.  My 'THE' swing disappeared like a sweet dream.

In the end, with help, I corrected my problems and have come full circle--from the well-intended but mostly myth-based advice my father handed down, to the expert advice of the pros, to my own discovery that golf can drive a control-freak perfectionist like myself quite mad.

Somewhere in my search for total excellence there came a dawning, an epiphany if you will, that no man or woman has ever played, nor ever will play the game of golf perfectly.

I also learned that the golf swing, once in motion, is not something I can control; it is something I must let happen.  That concept alone was most difficult for me to grasp. 

I have learned and accepted the capabilities and limits of my body, and since I have realized that I will never be another Jack Nicholas or Tiger Woods, I'm enjoying the game more than I ever have.

It is said the game of golf reflects life and I agree.  It has taught me some valuable lessons.  That is, in life you have to learn all you can, but realize that you can never learn it all.  And if I learned nothing else, it's that there is always somebody who is going to be worse than me and better than me, so enjoy where you are and let life happen.




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