Golf Reflections


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My amateurish photo of today's driving range festivities. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

I had a Eureka! moment today–a moment I’m ashamed to say somehow escaped me for the last year.

Golf at lunch. So simple. One open hour every day, an hour in which you can do whatever you choose: eat, read, sleep, shop…or golf.

Last summer, I wrote on my thoughts about balancing golf and life. It’s a tough deal these days, and I don’t even have a kid yet. So this is where the lunch hour comes in. For some reason, I’ve been using my lunch hour over the last year to actually eat. What’s up with that?

Today, I changed up things. I drove five minutes  around the corner to a nice driving range/par 3 course/practice facility.  As tempted as I was to play a quick nine, I only had an hour, so I settled for range balls.

Tomorrow, I plan on using the time to putt, or perhaps spend some Christmas gift card money on a new 3 wood and/or hybrid. Either way, I’ve set a new trend for my lunch hour: food is nice, but I’ll take golf.

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I’m my own worst critic.

Some might call it a strength because I always see room for improvement, regardless of what I’m doing and how adept I might be at a certain task.

Others might label it a weakness because I rarely feel confident enough to compliment my own work. I’m abnormally quick to see a negative and painfully slow to see a positive.

In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Perhaps God has blessed me with a healthy amount of cynicism. So what’s the point? Well, I mention this because it’s a trait that naturally seeps into my golf game.

I’ve never struck a perfect 7 iron. Relative to my golf swing, I’ve hit many nice shots over the years, even holing out quite a few. But, the way I see it, a flawed beginning cannot produce a perfect result.

My swing is far from perfect. And if my swing always has room to improve, then a perfectly struck 7 iron is not a perfectly struck 7 iron at all. It’s more like a series of synchronized compensations that produce an acceptable result. I’m kind of joking there. Kind of.

Part of the reason I burned out on golf was my inability to silence, or at least temper, that negative voice. But then God led me to writing, and my inner critic began to cultivate, not suffocate, my talents.

Writing as an art is inherently a process of purification–in other words, filtering the excess and muck out of the content. Any writer worth his or her salt will never publish a first draft. The writer must massage and tweak copy to better convey meaning, to produce rythym and flow, and to weed out unnecessary fluff. So writing—and especially editing—involves finding and nuking the negative stuff. It’s a process, not an event.

Though I’ve come to accept blogging as different—a more casual, less anal, style of writing—I’m still incessantly bothered every time I post. Because I know somewhere on this page there’s an errant typo, a clunky cluster of words, a sucky word choice, or just a flat-out piece of crap sentence. It happens.

But back to golf. To become a better golfer, I believe you have to be a self-critic. You have to spot the flaws, the inconsistencies, the seemingly minute details of your game. Otherwise, you’ll never get better.

You have to compete with yourself. Though I’m a pretty low-key fellow at work and at home, when I get on the golf course I transform into somewhat of a competitive, bullheaded S.O.B.

My language seems to change—not for the better, and short of 14 fairways, 18 greens, and 68 strokes, there’s always something for me to be ticked about. But if I hit 14 fairways, 18 greens, and only shoot a 68, then my putting must have sucked. You see what I’m saying about self-criticism?

Anyway, I’m no Bob Rotella or Dr. Phil. But, in my opinion, if you want to be a good golfer–or if you want to be good at anything–you have to be able to criticize yourself.

Does that mean beating yourself up at every opportunity? No, I do enough of that for both of us. But you’ve got to be introspective enough to see your flaws and address them. Denial sucks.

And one more point: You’ve got to take in stride constructive criticism from others. Now, don’t worry about Joe the Wannabe PGA Pro who, without prompting, offers needless advice at every tee box. Ignore that guy.

But talk to the golf pro, the better players at your club, guys in your foursome who can at least identify any major flaws in the swing.

You’ve got to have thick skin. This is something I learned in writing that has helped me in my return to golf. Creative writing workshops in college quickly taught me to enjoy the power of red. Though it hurt to see a professor or a fellow student mark up my paper like a bad painting, it helped me see how others viewed my writing.

Golf is the same. The golfer who never looks for feedback will rarely improve.

Not that you asked for advice, not that you want advice, but I’m offering advice. I’m so old these days that it takes four or five practice swings for all my bones to stop cracking. So if I’m old enough for that, I think I’m old enough to offer unsolicited advice on my blog. But you get what you pay for.

Now go critique yourself and get better at whatever it is you do! Until next time…

The unsung heroes, the backbone, of every golf course in America are the cart guys.

The cart guy. He cleans your cart, scrubs your clubs, fills your sand bucket, and dampens your towels. But you don’t even notice him.

He’s the dude who’s waiting on you to finish your round at 9 P.M, when even a freaking owl can’t see. He hears you out on number 16, halfway across the moonlit golf course, partying it up with your three drunk buddies.

And he has to clean up the 22 Miller Lite cans and 10 cigarette butts out of your cart, the cart that now smells of stale flatulence and urine–and looks as if you went mudding in the Okeefonokee.

He’s there at 7 A.M. every morning, preparing the cart for your milestone round of 90. And who’s the first person you see when your milestone round of 90 is finished? Yep, that’s him, the trusted cart guy.

So do him a favor. Tip him a few bucks.

If you stay on the golf course past 9 P.M, tip him five bucks. And if you’re the last cart on the course, tip him ten bucks. You see, maybe he has an English exam to study for, or perhaps he has some friends waiting on him to go out on the town.

To you, he may just be a nameless, faceless purveyor of golf course transportation. But he has a life; he really does. So just tip him, the cart guy.

For a few years in college, I worked as a cart guy at my local country club. Very few people, we’re talking 4 or 5, regularly tipped. Some of those older guys could blow their noses with Benjamins and wouldn’t notice, but the fogeys didn’t even tip a buck or two after we pulled their clubs out of storage, scrubbed them down, and prepared their carts.

Since then, I’ve vowed to always tip well–whether it’s the cart guy, a waiter, a taxi driver, or the pizza delivery man. The service industry is totally underappreciated. I remember too many nights, waiting in the dark for that one lone cart to pull up and two drunk morons to emerge. Man, that pissed me off.

Tonight, I played a quick nine after work. On the 7th hole, I caught up with this threesome composed of the three slowest and worst golfers in the history of the sport. I would’ve finished the nine holes in 45 minutes, but thanks to these golfing misfits, it took closer to an hour and a half.

After pulling the cart in around 7:30–very dark here in Nashville this time of the year–I stuck $5 under the scorecard holder of the steering wheel, told the cart guy to have a good night, and walked up the hill toward my car.

A few seconds later, he yelled back at me, “Hey! Sir! Is this your $5?” “Yeah,” I said. “It’s a tip.”

“Oh, um, thanks!” It was like the guy had never got a tip before. Unbelievable.

So tip the cart guy. Just tip the cart guy.

Since my untriumphant return to golf, I’ve noticed quite a few differences between golf these days and when I played in high school and college.

As I’ve mentioned, the technology advances are staggering. Between balls like the Pro V1X and drivers like the Ping G10, Titleist D2, etc, I’ve gained 15-20 yards, at least, on average. And like I discussed on Monday, I’ve bombed a few drives, unlike I’ve ever hit a driver before.

But the biggest difference for me these days is a personal one. I’ve got a life now. In other words, the 40 hour work week and the natural busyness of married life places golf into its proper perspective.

Somewhere around the age of 23, those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to play golf for a living have to find jobs, pursue careers, and maybe even snag a date or two. When I was in my early twenties, six hours at the golf course was a typical day…these days, at the ripe young age of 32, it’s the same amount of time I spend over a two-week period.

The balance is the hard part. I love my wife more than my career. And both definitely take priority over golf. But, as I’ve said before, golf is in my blood. If I’m going to play again, if I’m going to pursue this mind-numbingly frustrating game, then I want to be good–even better than I was before.

If I’m going to beat it around to the sound of an 85 every time I play, then I’d just rather not. I’m too competitive, too stubborn, to think I can’t do better than that, to think I can’t go back out in some local and state amateur tournaments (in the near future) and compete, or at least play to the best of my ability.

But the key is this. In the midst of life, I’ve got to maximize my practice time. I’m not going out to the range once a week (every Wednesday) just to beat balls; I’m going out with a plan: my alignment, my grip, one or two particular swing thoughts.

And when I go out to play once every weekend, whether I’m playing 9 or 18, I’m setting goals. Usually, it’s not even a score that I’m shooting for; it’s more about hitting a certain number of fairways and greens every round. Ten fairways, twelve greens, something like that. Hit targets and the score will follow.

In college, I worked as a cart guy at the country club in my hometown, Cartersville, Georgia. I remember seeing dudes out there every freaking day. Some guys, married with kids, played four or five rounds a week. And these aren’t touring pros or anything, these are guys with normal careers and jobs…insurance, real estate, whatever.

But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sacrifice one thing for another. I don’t want to sacrifice my marriage or the relationship with my future kids for the faint hope that I may shoot a 67 or win 50 bucks in a game. That’s what we call screwed up priorities. Now, if my son picks up golf, then, oh yeah, that’s a different story.

I just want to keep getting better. Maybe it’s unrealistic for me to think that I can play once or twice a week and still maintain a 2 handicap, as I did as a young whippersnapper. But I don’t think so. Now that I have a life, and golf is down the priority list, I put a lot less pressure on myself. Nothing to lose.

The end goal is to be a good amateur golfer, to compete in some sanctioned state tournaments. No longer is it to be in the one tenth of one percent of the guys who make it on Tour. The only way I’m making it on Tour is if I’m there with a pen in my hand. Is the PGA Tour hiring freelance writers?

Anyway, I’m big on goals and mission statements these days…mostly as a result of the incredible place at which I work. And this little blog is starting to pick up in traffic. So I figured I’d let you know a little bit about myself, about why I’m writing a golf blog that isn’t just random news bits, like a lot of sports blogs out there.

I’ve decided to include some personal stuff, like this post, because without a personal angle, this blog is just a news site, or some cliched “crazy blogger guy” with an over-the-top opinion. There’s enough of that out there. And, quite frankly, it’s not original. Not too say that I won’t be reporting news and offering opinions, but there’s more to this than that.

I didn’t just flip the switch on this little writing project without a plan in mind. Right now, it’s just to find a pleasant little balance between golf and life. And now that I’ve reached my quota for golf rambling for today, I must leave on an abrupt note.

Until next time…

In the midst of my 78 today, after 3-putting three times and bogeying a 320 yard par 4 from 50 yards out, I was struck by the difficulty of this freaking sport we call golf. In basketball, miss a shot, the other team rebounds and then you start all over.  In football, miss your block, throw a bad pass, and more often than not you can live with it.  But in golf, you make a bad swing, make a bad putt, or flub a chip, and you take a double bogey and you’ve got A LOT of work to do to make it up.  

There really is very little margin for error in this game.  I think that’s why it drives so many people crazy. You can spend years playing this psychotic sport and still never sniff 80. But it’s all relative, and while I can sniff 80, and even 70 at times, I would say that 99% of of the times I play golf I leave the course feeling like I left shots out there. Like, a bunch of shots. Today, realistically should have been a 74…but that’s just the nature of golf, you never shoot as well as you think you should. 

Golf, in a lot of ways, reminds me of writing. Maybe that’s why I love both. Everyone can play, everyone can pick up a pen and write, and everyone can pick up a club and swing. But very few do it well. And as I’ve learned as an editor, you can tell within the first sentence if someone can write…just like you can tell in the first swing if someone is a seasoned golfer.

Speaking of which, the seasoned golfers on the Tour got rained out today. 36 holes tomorrow for the leaders at the PGA.  Now that’s just brutal. But if a guy gets hot, at least he doesn’t have to sleep on it overnight and kill the rhythm. Get that putter going tomorrow and you have 36 holes to run with it, instead of 18. Long John (J.B.) Holmes looks to get that putter stroking tomorrow and he can win his first major.  

So tune in tomorrow, or maybe Monday, for our PGA Championship reflection. My right shoulder is sore from today’s round. I’m really, really getting old. This is disturbing.

You know the feeling. It’s that moment, that instant you realize the ball is going in the hole. Two feet away and it’s dead center, slowly trickling through the grain just as you envisioned it. Gripping the tightly mowed grass, the ball takes the break perfectly, then disappears into the bottom of the cup.

That’s the feeling that brought me back to golf. After an eight-year hiatus, six years of which I didn’t step on a golf course one time, that little split second neurological impulse revisited my brain and I was hooked.

Around late 2000, after a solid 12-13 years of playing golf year-round, I packed away the clubs, the balls, and the worn-down Nike shoes for good. The passion just wasn’t there anymore, and the reality of a realistic career called. Thoughts of professional golf had long since left my mind at that point. After struggling for a couple of years playing college golf, burnout set in and I played sparingly for a year or two before finally throwing in the flag.

For six years, I didn’t touch a club or set foot on a course. And though I had grown up playing the game, walking anywhere from 27-45 holes a day during the 95 degree Georgia summers, I couldn’t have cared less about golf. That, my friend, is what we call burnout.

On June 9, 2006, the day before I married my lovely wife, I dusted off the clubs and the rotator cuffs and played with our wedding party, firing a wildly inconsistent 82 (46-36). And for the next two years, I played a few times at weddings, on vacations, etc. Though I didn’t dislike playing golf anymore, my dormant obsession with the game had yet to return.

About a month ago, I birdied holes 8 and 9 at the Golf Club of Amelia Island to shoot a front nine 34.  Number 9, a par 3, played about 185. After fading a 4 iron up to about 20 feet, I stood behind the right-to-left breaking putt and remembered how to read a green. Start at the hole. Work your way back to the ball. Look at the front of the green, the back of the green. Follow the slope. So, aiming two balls outside of the hole, I stroked the putt exactly how I had envisioned it seconds earlier. The Titleist slowly and steadily trickled into the hole. Dead-center. At that moment, I loved golf again.

So, as a result of my newly rediscovered passion for my golf, here I am starting a golf blog. Will it last? I really don’t know. As a writer, it would seem that blogging is right up my alley. But when you write and edit all day, sometimes writing isn’t the first thing you want to do when you get home.

A full disclosure: this is my second attempt at a blog. The first, a now defunct and irregularly updated site can be found here. If you’re interested in some of my thoughts on Christianity, spirituality, and whatnot, then you’ll find it there. 

Since I’ve been writing for six years now, both full-time and freelance, I’m particularly excited about my golf epiphany because it allows me to combine my first love, golf, with my second love, writing.

On a professional level, I’ve worked for a couple of prominent pastors in Atlanta —writing everything from magazine articles to the copy on the back cover of DVDs.  Now in Nashville , I work as a content manager for a personal finance guy with a popular radio show…

But this little blog is about none of that. I don’t intend to write Christian here. You can find plenty of that all over the web. After six years of spiritual writing, maybe I’m taking a little hiatus. I almost feel as if I’ve written everything I can write, read everything I could read—and it’s all starting to sound the same, trite and clichéd. Regardless, I need a break.

So my focus here is golf. What’s my angle? Who knows. Maybe some PGA  Tour, maybe some personal reflections, maybe some random golf thoughts, maybe my quest to be a decent amateur golfer again and compete in some local and state ams. Really lofty goals, huh? The only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t really care if anyone reads it….otherwise I probably wouldn’t mention the 81 I will probably shoot on Sunday. So, you may ask, why post this online then? Why not just keep a journal? Good point.

Anyway, it’s late…got to wrap up. I’m a Bruce. The Bruces comes from Scotland . So golf is in my blood. And though golf will probably make me bleed again, though I’ll hate it more often than not, it’s back. Like an old, crazy, cross-eyed friend I haven’t seen in a long time, it’s back. Now, if I can only remember how to make a decent chip shot again.