Standing on the third tee at The Old Course at St. Andrews, your mind in confused. Laid out in front of you is a moonscape of humps, bumps, hills and pot bunkers. Where do you aim? What is the correct choice of line? What if you hit it exactly where you planned and it bounces off in an unintended direction? Or, how about mis-hitting your drive only to receive a fortuitous bounce into Position A? Processing this load of information can tend to make someone chuck strategy out the window and simply grip ‘n rip, and let the chips fall where they may.
Golf is life. And life is weird.
When we reach a certain age, usually in the late teens, we are expected to decide on what we want to do with our lives. Plans are made – college perhaps, or a trade school. Often decisions are delayed in order to prolong childhood. Marry someone wealthy. Hitchhike across Europe. Join the military. We are metaphorically standing on the third tee at St. Andrews looking out at the panorama of what may await, we make a decision…and we swing away. And it is precisely at that point – when the metaphorical clubhead meets the ball – when we have lost control of the outcome. All we can really do is make a decision. That’s it.
Yes, I know many will say that it is far more complicated than that – that proper planning, discipline and adherence to a strategy will garner the desired outcome. Horsehockey. What those activities do is perhaps raise the possibility of the desired outcome, but really, the ball is now in the air and the wind could shift at any moment, and when it lands – even if it was only a foot off of where you aimed – an undesired outcome may occur. You enroll in college…but you meet a girl, fall in love, get married, drop out, have a family. In the literal blink of an eye, your plan of graduating college has morphed into raising a family.
Is it any wonder psychologists are in business? This life stuff is hard. Unpredictable. Full of self-doubt – why did I marry that girl? Why didn’t I lay up short of that pot bunker? I didn’t want to be deployed to Iraq. I didn’t expect the ball to land in a divot. I didn’t expect the economy to take a nosedive. Why did the wind change direction in mid-flight? Why did she leave me? I should have taken more club. I should have finished college.
Life is weird...but it is also redemptive. A golf course has eighteen holes, so no matter what your decision off that third tee resulted in, a fourth hole awaits. And a fifth, sixth, seventh and so on. Earlier mistakes are forgotten and we start anew. There may be a lingering effect on the scorecard, but opportunities abound for recompense. This explains second marriages, career changes, returns to college. Criminal records can be expunged, marriages dissolved, bankruptcy reorganizations occur. In essence, decisions gone awry – or just plain bad decisions – can be forgiven. That stupid choice to take on that pot bunker can result in a memorable recovery shot that you will be telling your grandkids about. And is that not the essence of life? It's not what we accomplish. It's what we overcome.
I often use the metaphor of life imitating golf imitating life. For good reason. There is no adversary per se in golf - it is just you and the course. How you manage your way around the course will determine your success. And you never 'defeat' the course. You can return the next day and the course is still there, unaffected by your presence the day before. The course doesn't care if you are there or not. This is life. Life sits there, ready for you to play it...or not. Life is eternal, our presence isn't. Life doesn't need us - we need it. And if we choose to play it, amazing things await.
Life is indeed a course to be played – a series of decisions, results, recalibrations, course corrections, reboots. In this context, life is long, beautiful, adventurous, cruel, redemptive, unpredictable, fair, unfair...and weird.