My college golf coach at Yale was David Paterson. He grew up in Scotland, and began his professional career there at Turnberry. He eventually made his way to the US, and we Yalies were fortunate to have learned from him. He is retired now, living in South Carolina, and I frequently visit him for check-ups on my game and to learn about teaching the game to others. With his permission, I’m passing along some thoughts of his from a recent email:
In his book The Gist of Golf. II, Harry Vardon’s first sentence begins, “A great deal of unnecessarily bad golf is played in this world.” He continues to say that despite all the bad golf, people continue to play with unquenchable hope and enthusiasm. I wondered how many of you still play golf with unquenchable hope and enthusiasm and what magic keeps you addicted to the game? I recall playing golf as a small child and have never ceased playing which means, by a loose measurement, I’m in my seventy first year of actively playing golf. Often in despair about my game I think about so much time wasted chasing the wee white ball, and to what end? Why do we do it?
There are many reasons and most of them personal and depending on your character not all applying to every individual golfer. We play for the thrill of seeing the ball fly in space, we play to exercise, we play for solitude and reflection, we play for the sociability of the game, we play for the esthetics of the course, being outdoors in beautiful surroundings but, most of all, we men, following some primitive instinct, play to compete and eagerly look forward to challenging new battle grounds.
Bernard Darwin, the famous London Times golf writer answers the question by first of all talking about the pleasure of setting out for the golf course, the joy of loading the clubs in the car, the expectation of meeting friends and playing well. “To travel hopefully is better than to arrive,” he says. It’s a rare day we head for the course expecting to play badly; perhaps when we are feeling ill or guilty from dodging work. The anticipation of playing well excites us and we head for the course always with the expectation of success, with total disregard to our handicap record mired in disappointment.
Nevertheless today is when all that changes. Quite suddenly during a recent lesson with the pro, as Darwin again relates, “the club feels familiar in our hands,” and shot after shot speeds to the target. Another secret added to our vast inventory of similar moments of golfing enlightenment which often carry to the first tee, a place of high tension and sever scrutiny by friend and foe alike, only to find a foreign instrument clutched awkwardly in our hands. The swing is made followed quickly by our partners’ barely perceptible sighs and groans and a sudden reminder of the bitter disillusionment often felt after each round.
The clubs are tossed violently into the car, but good cheer, plentiful in the nineteenth hole, and the commiseration and understanding of our playing companions soon releases the angst of poor play and slowly kindles an eagerness to play again. In the back of the car, clubs are carefully rearranged apologetically, with renewed respect and theorizing begins again on the drive home with thoughts that we can do better. Like the eternal flame, our interest never dies, re-ignited by the memory of one or two shots during the round that did go well just like the good times that come along to keep us going in business and in life. Poor golf isn’t so bad after all just remember all the other benefits and take heart from what Vardon adds, ” There is no reason why a physically sound individual, who takes up the game before old age with determination to succeed at it, should fail to develop form justifying a tolerably low handicap.” I would add that even in old age it can be accomplished. Keep seeking that feeling of the club familiar in your hands. That’s where the secret lies. I will talk about the importance of the hands in golf in my next message. In the meantime keep swinging .