Yesterday I played 14 1/2 holes of golf. That's an unusual number of holes by anyone's count. What started out as an enjoyable round of golf on a temperate summer day, ended in frustration, out of golf balls, and with the loss of a 4-iron.
I parred the first two holes, thinking to myself, this is turning out better than expected. I haven't played much golf in recent years, usually only getting a round or two in for an entire year. Having, surprisingly, found myself with the summer off, I planned to work on my game. I had played a fair amount of golf as a youth and enjoyed both the sport and the manicured walks. Plus, this counts as exercise, right?
As I approached the third hole tee box, two golfers ahead of me waved me on. Solo play is sometimes frowned on by groups because the pace of play can create the feeling of pressure to a group in front of a lone golfer. It is a courtesy to wave a single player on, many courses give no status to a solitary player.
Golf, in many ways, is a game of rhythm — break the established cadence and the results can change widely. Subtle variations in swing tempo or stance are amplified in erratic ball flight.
I had planned to take a drink of water, already unscrewing the cap from my bottle. Before I could take a sip, I saw the arm raise and signal for me to come hit. Moving too quickly, I felt the pressure of these two fellows waiting for me to play through. I capped my water, grabbed a 3-wood, and half-jogged to the tee box.
Golfers can already guess what happened next. I thumbtacked my tee into the lush grass, placed my ball on top, quickly lined up my shot, and set my stance. I don't take a lot of practice swings. My philosophy, right or wrong, is that as long as my muscles are warmed up and I take a moment to visualize what I am attempting to do, I will conserve my swings for actually hitting the ball. I've watched a tremendous amount of golfers swing half-a-dozen times before nearly every shot, they take 6 or 7 times the number of swings I do in a round, and generally they appear out of gas on the back nine.
Before I hit the ball, I try to take a nice deep breath, it slows the heart rate and allows me to relax my shoulders. Whenever I'm dealing with tension or stress, it seems to accumulate in my shoulder muscles. Some people get pressure headaches, I get a stiff neck.
Forgetting to breath, with an accelerated heart rate from rushing to tee off, I swung the club. While I did manage to hit the ball, it was a glancing blow, topping the dimpled sphere, driving it down into the grass inches from my hastily placed tee. The ball traveled maybe 60 yards. The two idle golfers eyed me suspiciously. In my imagination I could hear them say, "Oh man, why did we let this guy in front of us".
Since my ball hadn't travelled enough distance to pass where they stood, I got to repeat my performance for this small audience. I drove the golf cart forward, and to my embarrassment, well past where my ball came to rest. A sharp whistle from my fellow golfers and a stern pointing behind me caused me to U-turn.
My second shot was not redeeming, coming off the club head left and landing in the tall grass amid some trees, a meek 100 feet away. Avoiding looking towards the golfers, all I could do was drive the cart forward, not bothering to put the club back in my bag. I punched the ball back to the fairway, now lying 3 at a distance less than I am normally capable of driving from the tee box. I half-heartedly raised my arm to acknowledge the gesture of letting me play through. I'm certain if I had looked back I would have seen the smirks and the proverbially shaking of heads.
A trusty 6-iron put me just to the right of the green. A chip and then two putts gave me a 7 for the par 4 hole. I've had plenty of 7 scores, and higher, but this one felt especially bad. I couldn't get to the golf cart fast enough so I could get away from the scrutinizing eyes of the, now behind me, golfers. For the next six holes, even though I was playing solo, and therefore theoretically faster, and I was driving a golf cart while they were walking, I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see them waiting on me.
My scores didn't really improve and I lost several balls on bad shots. (I did have a picture perfect 6-iron from 165 yards to the green on the 9th hole - I feel you only need a shot or two like this that gives you hope and keeps you coming back to work on your game). On hole 14, my second shot, I lined up a 4-iron, took a breath, and promptly broke the club head from the shaft on contact with the ball. The ball, mercifully, went straight, the club head went way left, tumbling down the fairway. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. So I did, sticking the broken parts in my bag.
My drive on hole 15 went out of bounds, and I determined I had had enough. I put the driver in my bag, pointed the cart toward the clubhouse and left. Game over, 14 1/2 holes.
Why had a courteous gesture to let a quicker playing golfer by so altered my play that I eventually quit the round? Of course, they had done nothing wrong. It was all how I had reacted to the events.
E + R = O
Event + Reaction = Outcome
I got in my own way, breaking my own rhythm, suffering because of the perceived pressure I created. While my story was about golf, the reality is we all create this fictional stress in our own lives, at home and at work.
Maybe the intentions you associate to your boss or co-workers aren't based on fact, maybe you've created them to justify your reactions. I ran into two friendly golfers who allowed me to pass them so they weren't holding me up. Too bad I squandered their good intentions.
[Draft initially written with a Viking SKJOLDUNGEN 400 OFFICE PENCIL - HB on June 17, 2017]