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THOMPSON: The life lessons I've learned playing golf

September 16, 2019 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


Golf - not unlike ice fishing or curling - brings out the best and worst in people. I love the game, but I know people who hate golf…really hate it. Spoiler alert…golf haters should stop reading now.

You see, I’ve learned a lot playing golf…and I’m not necessarily talking about its rules or the fine points of becoming a better ball striker. It is a pastime that operates on more than the obvious level of a game. There are too many parallels to living your life not to adore the game…even if you never break 100.

Like any game, there are those who have natural ability. And, there are those who - despite lessons from the best teaching professionals and playing for decades - never get better. I have learned not to wager with the former, and take my wallet out with the latter.

My dad never played golf…but when I was in my 30s, he rode along with me in a golf cart watching me hit some good and not-so-good shots. After nine holes, he got out of the cart on the tenth tee and asked me if he could hit one. I remember saying, “Why not?”

After a fifteen-second lesson on how to grip the club…he was ready. He was about 70 years old at the time…and had never held a golf club. I teed up a ball…and with not so much as a waggle of the club…he drove the ball 240 yards down the middle of the fairway.

He turned to me, eyebrows raised and said, “I thought it might be harder.” He handed me the driver…it was the only time during his life that he would touch a golf club. I always thought…good one to end on.

My game has improved over the years. I describe my ability - quite accurately - as moments of brilliance interspersed with nonsense. It is a tough game. Unlike other sports, I don’t believe you can ever master golf. That’s why we see professionals hit balls into water, trees and sand…and miss two-foot putts.

Nowhere does optimism shine more brightly than in the eyes of an amateur golfer. That is why we look for balls in the rough 50 yards beyond where Tiger Woods could drive a ball. That is why after driving a ball into a bunker, we grab a fairway metal club to hit - from a questionable lie - 225 yards…over a water hazard onto the green.

That is why there are garages all across Canada and the United States with enough golf clubs to start a small pro shop. Each year, we golfers are lured by golf club and ball makers offering up the latest miracles of technology. Most of us buy into the appeals…after all…they are appealing. It’s the magic bullet.

Truth be known, most of us would do well to keep the old clubs and take lessons from a professional…not your spouse, not your best friend…both of whom likely shoot in the 90s or 100s.

Despite all the imperfections of the game and those who play it…I’ve found no better metaphor for life. That’s why I like taking my five-and-a-half-year-old grandson to play golf.

He - like most kids his age - is fearless….and is quick to pick up elements of the game. Even with toy clubs he can hit a golf ball over 100 yards. And he is learning etiquette…being quiet when other players are about to play. I smile as we pass others at the club - adults - and he says, “Have a nice round.”

He’s also learning self-discipline. He was wide-eyed this summer when I told him that golf - unlike most every other game - relies on him as a player…to be the referee, as well. Often during a round, I explained, you might be the only one to see that you accidentally moved the ball…and only you can call a stroke penalty.

The game is really about character and integrity and honesty and fairness, just like life.

There is one person…a gentleman in every sense of the word…from Atlanta, GA who defined golf more than anyone else…and proved the games as a metaphor for life. Robert Tyre Jones…Bobby Jones.

Bobby Jones was not a professional golfer. He was an amateur. He was a lawyer…a graduate of both Georgia Tech and Harvard. How good was Jones as a golfer? He won his first Major at age 23. He would win 13 Majors in eight years…winning the Grand Slam - all four Majors in one year - in 1930. He then retired from competitive golf…at age 30.

Jones died in 1971…but you can see him swing a golf club on YouTube. It’s 90 years old…but there’s no mistaking a swing as sweet as Maple syrup. Someday…sooner than later, I’ll show my grandson that swing.

I have no idea whether my grandson will continue to love golf…and if so whether he’ll play well or ever win a tournament. None of that is really important. What is important is that what he’s learning playing golf now…will stay with him his entire life.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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