Why I Keep Playing

By Wayne | blog

So I’ve just made triple on my 16th hole, another tough par-3 at Isleworth CC (yes, home of the fire hydrant), and I’m wondering to myself, why do I subject myself to this? Isleworth is an incredibly demanding course: the shot values are high all over the course, almost without letup. When the wind blows the difficulty increases. When it’s chilly as well, well, you can imagine. Its 7069 yards of torture, with tight fairways, deep bunkers in the fairway and around the greens, fast, firm, roly-poly greens replete with crowns, moguls, and false fronts. There are a number of shots over water, including the second hole, which is probably the hardest par 3 in the known world. That said, it is also a quite fair course, because a good shot is never punished. It’s just that on this course a “good” shot really has to be great, and just decent is liable to get you into all sorts of trouble. But then, that’s what a good, tough course is all about.
The answer to the question of “why I play” is pretty simple. When you think about your normal daily activities, including what is going on with your job and your family, what during that time is compelling enough to really get your blood going? What gets you going where your heart rate goes up and you have to concentrate 100% on what you’re doing (other than sex)? Playing golf in tournament conditions is completely removed from everyday life. You are nervous, focused, intense, facing 4 or more hours of relentless difficulty, every shot counting toward your eventual success or failure. Your heart is pumping, you are in the game, and the game usually wins. However, there are those odd times where you beat the game, your biggest fears and your dogged failures. If you win once, you are hooked. I got a trophy in my first event when I was 12, and I won my first tournament. Here was something at which I could win, and I didn’t have to be tall, or fast, or big. I could compete with, and be better than, anyone.
For a long time it was the winning that drove me. The question would come up in our PGA of America meetings about how to increase tournament participation amongst the members, and it occurred to me that there are two types of people: there are the results oriented people, and there are the experience oriented people. Here’s what I mean: if you are results oriented your success at whatever you attempt means everything. If you are experience oriented it is the playing that matters, not the winning. Up to about 3 years ago I was a results oriented person. I played to win, and if I didn’t win (and you certainly don’t win as much as you lose, unless you are the Tiger of 1997-2009) I was disappointed. My expectations were high, and I worked so that I could eventually triumph.
Now things are different. I haven’t played so well over the last 3 years or so, and it is getting so that I am not really a threat to win the tournaments I am playing in. This is a sea-change for me, as I am used to being in the hunt in every event I play in. So the question now is, if I can’t seem to play well enough to win, why play? And that is exactly what was going through my head as I watched another shot spin back off the green down the false front, heading for another double and another round in the high 70’s or worse. So I looked out over the lake (it was an absolutely beautiful day, the sun glistening off the water, the big birds taking off and swooping over us) and it occurred to me that I play because nothing else gets me going like this. I love the beauty and the challenge of the golf course. I love the attempt to master the thought process that would allow you to hit good shots all in a row. I just love being in the heat of battle, trying desperately on each shot not to let the course win, focusing 100% on striking the ball just as the picture in my mind suggests, watching the ball fly on that perfect trajectory and landing precisely where I imagined before I even moved the club. I am testing all the work I’ve done on my swing and on all the other elements of my game, and the result of the test will be to suggest what I need to work on next. It is a never-ending cycle, and I am inexorably wrapped up in it, with no escape.
Some people quit the game. When the results are not forthcoming, the results oriented person will bail. It is not the excitement of the competition that compels them; it is only the eventual success they crave. I know now that I am not one of those people. I just love to play golf, even if it feels like torture as I watch my shots go array and my scores go up. It really doesn’t matter, because when I wake up tomorrow I will have a few ideas about what I need to do to get better, and those ideas all came from the failure that I just concocted in my most recent ill-fated attempt at glory. If that sounds like I’m only playing because I still want to win, I guess you might be right. But I will play on even if I never win again, because the game calls me on, and I must answer the call.

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(4) comments

Matt February 1, 2012

Awesome post Wayne! Golf and sex- maybe that could be the next blog topic

Tom February 2, 2012

Dan Jenkins, who was a scratch golfer in his youth and played collegiate golf at TCU, was asked once why he continued to enjoy playing golf after his skills eroded. He replied simply: “It’s part of the charm.”

    james rennie February 3, 2012

    Wayne keep up the quest, it’s no fun when you have nothing to work on or thoughts that you can improve tomorrow. If we didn’t like that process, which involves both sucess and failure, then we should quit. Our lives each day should be filled with the quest to be the best we can in every aspect of our lives, that is what keeps us young and engaged.

David February 25, 2012

The hardest par 3, and as far as I know it isn’t even close (though I’m sure there’s an exception somewhere), is the 8th hole at Oakmont. Remember that one from the US Open a couple years ago? 288 yards.
Gimme the driver.

I love Oakmont. And by the way, Tiger shot 59 at Isleworth. From the tips. At 21 years of age.
Great golf course this year for the US Open: Olympic Club in San Francisco. Really a great place. Speaking of great courses, I think my favourite course in the world is the West course at Winged Foot. It’s just amazing…and amazingly difficult, too. (Sadly, the USGA is having some difficulty getting their Open back there, as the membership doesn’t want it. Or at least that’s the news last I heard.)

Half of my comments are longer than your blogs. And yes, golf is obviously a marvelous game. But so is tennis. And I really don’t know which I like better. Even Jack Nicklaus has said he thinks tennis is the greatest game in the world. Anyone who saw the Nadal-Fed Wimbledon final in the dark, or even just the Djokovic-Nadal Australian final last month, would have absolutely no doubt as to why Nicklaus thinks that. But golf is my love. Once you fall in love with golf, even if you quit, and no matter how bad you’re playing, even in the depths of despair, there’s something about it that’s just…special.
It’s a shame that people’s exposure to the greatest game on earth is so dependent on their income level. However, I must say, one of the things I’ve noticed since the advent of Tiger Woods, which obviously exploded the popularity of the game, is that golf is struggling a bit to keep itself clean, to keep its self-respecting image, its prestige. Obviously, many people have picked up on this, and it’s become quite a trite issue, but… I don’t want golf’s image to tailor itself to Joe the Plumber, I want Joe to tailor himself to the game. Golf shouldn’t have to become NASCAR to be accommodative. Accusations of elitism follow on the coattails of any and all statements such as the above, but if it’s elitism, fine; I don’t care. For those who want to play the game, they should adopt its values. It shouldn’t have to adopt theirs.
That’s the highest form of fantasizing, of course. Good luck with the practicality of that. But I can dream.

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