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The PGA TOUR’s regular season has come to a close, and the FEDEX CUP Playoffs are in full swing. I do not play the TOUR, but I have stayed at a Holiday Inn… wait, I drink Dos Equis… no, I just attended a handful of events this year. In the past twelve months, I had a few moments when it was like God said, “have yourself a day.”
I have written about each in length (Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Masters, WP9, Streamsong PGA Championship), but I thought I’d take inventory of what they mean in total. Turns out, this game mirrors life more than any other I have experienced.
Isn’t that the point of games? Games, be them sporting or not, are little things we do for fun. They have purpose, rules, conflict, strategy, and resolution. And when it is said and done, as much as how it turned out, what matters is how we played.
In my short life, I have had enumerable blessings. God has given me health, air to breathe, a wife, children, family, friends, education, food, shelter, cars (especially my 1998 rusted, leaky Toyota Camry), and a multitude of other things that I have taken for granted or thought I earned (I didn’t). God has given me challenges, pain, conflict, and any other number of things I thought I didn’t deserve or earn (I did). And in the peaks and the valleys, God has asked me to be faithful and live a life that is defined by love, joy, and peace. Inevitably, I fail… sometimes spectacularly.
An example: last night my family and I flew home from an event in Florida for a charity that we run. It was just after 6:00 when we settled, and I grabbed my sticks and went to the muni. After three great drives and three poor approach shots, I hurled an iron end over end towards the green.
This game we play, golf, gives us an opportunity to engage in a long journey over an extended period of time. Like life, we are individuals walking alongside some of our closest friends and complete strangers. We plan and strategize whether we have the ability or not, and we give it our best effort. We use persistence and patience to hone our skills, yet the biggest factor of our play (and enjoyment) is our attitude.
Golf is a game that cannot be perfectly played. Even Kim Jung Un does not card an 18 on a round. Rather, we are tasked with limiting our mistakes, admitting our faults, and forgiving ourselves and others so we can move forward, hopefully learning from them for the next time.
In the course of 18 holes, it is easy to become myopic, thinking more about the golf swing than the golf; the proverbial tree instead of the forest. Our mind’s eye turns to our shoulders or hands, our spine angle or launch trajectory. When in reality, those things are no longer important. Our focus must be on the target that lies ahead, trusting ourselves with our swing, accepting our best effort.
Of course, we’d like to take a massive cut off the tee and launch the ball like Justin Thomas, but that’s not life. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Sometimes you just don’t have that shot in your bag. Our imagination and innovation in new circumstances can lead to new experiences and previously unforeseen excitement.
Like golf, this life is full of good shots rewarded and bad shots penalized, and occasionally good shots penalized and bad shots rewarded. It can feel arbitrary, capricious, and unfair. Who we are when it is the most difficult is who we truly are. We will not be perfect, but we can grow. Sometimes we’ll pull a Phil. Hopefully, more often than not, we won’t.
I don’t play golf for a living. It is a hobby, something to do to help me think, get exercise, and be outside. While watching professionals throughout this year, I saw at the highest levels the beauty of this game and its relationship to life. It was a joy to walk with good friends and watch elite athletes. It’s fun to be in awe, to own childlike wonder.
Other times, I played unique, well-designed courses. Their design inspired awe, and each shot was a chance to marvel at the course and the design. Every now and then, we get those moments.
The past 12 months have been a whirlwind of moving, job changes, hellos, goodbyes, late nights with an infant, early mornings with an infant, holidays with families, long quiet drives, and delightful little experiences throughout. The variability of life, the totality of its events are greater than I can comprehend. It can lead to frustration, being overwhelmed, or downright anger. I have planned my course over and over, and I have learned the best thing to do is play the next shot.
In those individual shots, there is an acceptance of finite nature. The course is too big to conquer all at once. It would be futile to try and do otherwise. There is relief from that burden and the game- this life- becomes enjoyable. Each shot is a new chance, a new swing to see what happens.
There is an old Hebrew proverb that says, “Man makes his plans, but God lays his steps.” We might plan our 18 holes shot for shot, but when we’re out there, those plans tend to go sideways (literally). The best we can hope for is that in those moments, we reveal ourselves to be patient, joyful people. And when the round is finished, we don’t want it to end, but we can look back on how we played, who we played with, and be thankful.
Shawn is a former teacher and current golf cart relocation specialist (aka cart guy). He is a lifetime golfer and enjoys writing about the human and spiritual nature in golf. He lives in Nashville with his wife and son.