Play golf.

I’ve been banging on about playing golf for a while now. When you’re truly playing the game you are doing everything in your power to get the results you want. But most golfers aren’t really playing the game. They’re missing out.

It occurred to me that I haven’t given a meaningful definition of what it is to play the game.

I sat down a few weeks ago to nut out a worthy definition. I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. A bit like writing down the definition of life. I got stuck and scrapped the idea and went and did something else. But it has been bugging me because I’m certain if you “get” what I’m going on about you’ll gain something positive. While many of your golfing buddies are busy thinking their golf swing stinks or wondering where their next good score is coming from, you’ll take away something much more. Let’s explore this play thing in more detail.

Golfers play.

Of that I’m sure. A true golfer will take the opportunity to walk the course over the practice fairway anytime (And notice I said walk? Carts are not part of a real golfer’s kit). The practice fairway is full of delusional golfers hiding from their fear. Why don’t they play? What are they scared of? I see lots of golfers hitting the ball on the practice tee but they’re not players – they’re not really playing golf.

The golf course is the arena where it matters. You can’t hide from your performance. If you start double bogey, double bogey you know about it. You need to pick yourself up, dust off and then get on with it. This kinda thing is useful for learning and the pain will be enough to NOT do it next time. The practice fairway offers no such tough love. It’s a safe haven, so while you’re unlikely to fall that hard, you’re not going to learn anything meaningful.

Golfers practice like they play and never the other way around.

Golfers care about the score without becoming obsessed by it. There’s a great young player in my club and I reckon he’s on the path to greatness. He hits the ball a mile (almost literally) and has got a spunky short-game. He’s also got a strong mind, some people would say an old head on young shoulders. He’s a great kid, cocky without being arrogant and certainly has got some perspective.

He lost some matches this year he could have won. He was non-flustered. The same couldn’t be said about members of the club.

“he can’t play matchplay!”
“he doesn’t know how to win”
“he’s not as good as he thinks”
blah blah blah

I haven’t heard so much crap in a while. Would be a bit like Einstein’s teacher giving up on him because he didn’t win the grade 5 science competition. A tad short-sighted if you ask me.

The future star realises that the score today is only part of the journey. It doesn’t define him. And the same thing goes for when he plays well – he doesn’t get carried away thinking he is better than he is. It’s a special quality in someone not yet 21 and why I think he’ll “make it”. It’s something I wish I learned at that age.

Golfers learn. They’re not stuck in first gear. They’re inventive and not worried about trying something new. If you’re not learning then you’re not playing the game. When was the last time you tried something new? Your 14 clubs offer so many possibilities – many more than you’ll ever know – so don’t be scared to try something. Try anything. But always be learning.

Golfers ignore. They don’t let others thinking affect them. They play their game and make no apologies for it.

Golfers make mistakes. These errors don’t phase them. They realise that a mistake or two isn’t the end. Mistakes are good because it helps them learn.

Golfers play their game. They listen and learn but they also walk their own path. A real golfer isn’t afraid to break the status quo and do what feels good to him.

Golfers teach. They help others. They understand that the more they help others the more their own game will benefit.

Golfers are aware. They notice their feelings and emotions. They also realise that it’s into the wind when others don’t. They smell the roses and they certainly can feel their swing. Awareness is simply noticing the present moment but many golfers are too distracted to notice. You can’t be aware when you’re too busy worried about your score, playing partners or the out of bounds stake.

Golfers have a clear intention. They draw a line in the sand and declare, “I’m hitting the ball to the front of the green”. They have a defined goal (target) with every shot they hit. There’s no slap happy hockey with them – they know what they want to do.

Golfers are accepting. You can’t hit a round full of perfect shots. It’s not possible. So while you need to be clear with your intention, you need to be accepting of the result. Learn but move on.

Golfers play fast. They don’t stuff about because they’re not trying to remember 23 rules each time they hit the ball. They think. They choose. They do. That’s it. Slow play is a problem and real golfers aren’t adding to the problem. Don’t mistake “fast” with “rush”. A poor golfer will rush when the pressure mounts. This is choking and not something a player will do.

Golfers work the short game. There’s no hiding from the importance of the short shots. If you don’t realise this then you’re definitely not a player. Putting, chipping, bunkers and pitching are the scoring shots – ignore them and you’ll suffer.

Golfers have fun. Fun is also hard to describe and not as easy as saying, “go have fun” or “enjoy yourself”. I think a real definition of fun can only be realised by someone who is playing the game.

Hitting the ball is fun
Learning is fun.
Competing is fun.
Playing in the moment is fun.

It’s your definition. And you’ll only find your definition of fun when you get outside and play the game.

Take dead aim.
The secret is in the dirt.
Do your best.
Have fun.

If you ask me they’re all saying the same thing.

Go and play.

And one other thing. You don’t have to go and play golf. You get to play.