Frustration, thy name is Golf
Last weekend, playing in the City Championship, I lipped out a putt. Big deal, right? It wasn’t the only putt I lipped out during this tournament, and yet, it still haunts me. It was about 7 feet, uphill, inside the right edge. I hit it perfectly, it went exactly where I thought it would, and yet it lipped out. “That was frustrating,” I said. Nobody else said anything, thankfully.
“That was frustrating” probably sounds like a singularly mild-mannered response, and it was. I was born and raised on a ranch, and spent my formative years dealing with obstinate livestock and cantankerous machinery, and furthermore was around people who had, shall we say, colorful vocabularies, so I do know how to parse my way eloquently around curses both obscene and profane. Jumping up and down in fury, snapping the putter over my knee and throwing the pieces in the nearby pond while screaming a string of expletives might seem more appropriate, and yet my playing partners understood my feelings just as clearly with my “That was frustrating” statement. They’ve all been there too.
Bobby Jones, arguably the best golfer in the world from 1917 to 1930 (he’s still the only person to win four majors in the same year), was famous in his early years for throwing clubs when he was frustrated. "Some emotions cannot be endured with a golf club in your hands." He mellowed as he matured, but noted that: “On the golf course, a man may be the dogged victim of inexorable fate, be struck down by an appalling stroke of tragedy, become the hero of unbelievable melodrama, or the clown in a sidesplitting comedy-any of these within a few hours, and all without having to bury a corpse or repair a tangled personality”.
In baseball, when you make a bad hit, you can burn off the frustration by trying to beat out the throw to first. In golf, that doesn’t work – when you get all heated up about a double bogey, you’ll follow it up with a triple. Every time. If you watch the best players in the world on TV, they all say the same thing. “Yeah, that was a bad shot, but you’ve got to put it behind you, and stay in the moment. Focus on the next shot.” Try and unload your anger on the next tee shot, and it will surely go out of bounds.
Mind you, I don’t sink to my knees in despair every time I miss a seven foot putt, because seven foot putts are difficult. Besides, as a friend once pointed out: “You’re not good enough to be that mad.” But some misses are more frustrating than others.
Why do we all play golf, anyway? For most of us, it isn’t the money (you can’t win enough gambling with your friends to cover your green fees, equipment costs, shoes, apparel, …). Nor the glory (quick, who won the City Championship in your town?). I think it’s for the pain, most of which is self-inflicted. Nobody consciously hits a ball into the water, or even the rough. Once in a while, a well-hit ball will roll into a divot in the fairway, but most of the trouble your ball finds, it finds because you hit it there! Lost in the woods? Whose fault is that? Chunked into the water? Why did you hit it so fat? Missed a putt? Gee, it’s only the direction and speed… What can I say, but: “It’s a frustrating game!”