Golf . . . And Competitive Golf
I think it was Bobby Jones who was first credited with the notion that there is a huge difference between golf and competitive golf. The former is a game that challenges us with all sorts of difficulty, and the latter introduces the inner demons of self-doubt and that thing we call “pressure”.
My Dad used to define “pressure” and its affect on us with this story.
It seems there was this fellow who was intrigued by the circus, in particular the tight rope performers. So he decided that’s what he wanted to do. He went out in his back yard and strung a rope tightly between two posts. Because he was learning, the rope was only a foot off the ground.
Well, he spent countless hours on that rope, first learning just to balance on it, then walk . . . frontwards and backwards . . . he learned how to turn around, then go faster and faster to and fro. He learned how to jump up and down, and then to skip rope on the tight wire. He even mastered the talent of riding a bike on the tight rope.
He was ready for the big top!!!!!! So he went to the circus to apply for a job, figuring when they saw all his talent, he was in. The circus manager agreed to see him perform, and took him up to the platform where the high wire act was practicing.
But when he looked down at the ground 40 feet below, he couldn’t even step off the platform. That’s pressure.
Golf is the same way, and it affects everyone from tour player to beginner. In fact, I think it probably affects the better player even more, as the higher your expectations are, the more pressure you put on yourself to perform to those standards. At any tour event, the guys on the driving range all look like machines. There’s no question that they all have all the shots. The difference is their ability to stay calm and trusting once on the course, and repeat those shots they so perfectly execute on the range.
I think any person’s ability to perform under pressure has to do with your inner peace and confidence, but also is a function of your basic psychological make-up. My Dad was a great competitor. He loved the final 2-3 holes of any match, and you could count on him to come through when the match was on the line. He liked to say “Big cats prowl just before dark.” And that put him in the mode to hit better shots, and make big putts.
My brother is a lot like that. He thrives on competition, as do my regular golf buddies. They have no interest in playing the game for purely social reasons. The more that is riding on a hole, the more they elevate their game to the occasion. And I’ve heard more than one golf buddy claim that they really don’t like golf all that much, but the “action” is great. What’s interesting about the best competitive golfers at our club is that all of them are also avid card players in the locker room. They love the gin table and also play poker. Hmmmmmm.
Where I’m going with all this is somewhat introspective. I grew up playing competitive golf, from matches with my buddies to high school golf. All my adult life, I’ve been part of “the game” at whatever club I belonged. Never for a lot of money, but always for something. But I’m realizing that, while I love the guys I play with, I just don’t enjoy the gambling aspect of golf as much as I used to. I’ve never been a card player, and Vegas is a place that I have absolutely no use for. While I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, “gambling” just isn’t something I enjoy.
My favorite golf these days is when my EIDOLON partner and I get together and just go play, as we will in Orlando next week. And I’ve always been a range rat, and actually enjoy solitary time on the golf course, playing a few holes and experimenting with different shots around the greens. Just me and the course, the ball and my clubs.
Maybe it’s because I spend all day working in the golf industry, writing blogs, talking golf and shotmaking. Maybe it’s that I put too much pressure on myself because I am in this business. And maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and wiser. I don’t know, but my love of the game has become totally disconnected with any interest in competing. And for now, I’m fine with that.
I really don’t have anywhere I’m going with this post. Maybe this one was more for me than for you guys. But if you have anything to add, please do.
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Great post. I like golf both ways- but like you, when I do play with something on the line its for small stakes. I noticed with myself- I don't have the "killer instinct" some people do. I love playing poker- but feel bad when a buddy loses a bad beat to me and I take all his money. Even when playing video games- I play at the level of the person playing against me- whereas I have friends who have no problem beating me 72-0 in a game I've never played. I guess it's a pretty unmanly admission... but at least in competitive games I enjoy them, but don't have "it."
The sport of golf is loved for so many different reasons. For me, I love to walk to that first tee at 7-7:30 in the morning, with dew still on the grass and the morning fog slowly burning off. All you hear is the sound of nature. Its the most peaceful experience, gets me away from everything. For that reason, I absolutely despise the side of golf that exists on many municipal courses where its a course slammed into a small piece of land, hundreds of people clanging around on their carts, slamming beer cans, yelling, etc. The peacefulness of enjoying the course, the surroundings, and the sport is lost to me then. Maybe I just sound like a snob? :-) -- Can't say I don't like a little friendly competition though!
Bryan K says:
I also fold under pressure. I spent a great deal of my life learning how to become a winning poker player, and I did it semi-professionally for about eight years. I gave it up becausee I couldn't take the competitive nature of the people I'd routinely beat. For a while, it was a solace to be going home with most of their money regardless of how much they wanted to rub in how they outplayed me on that one hand. After a while, though, I started to get to the point where I could spot the problem gamblers the second they sat down at the table, and I started to hate myself for knowing exactly what I needed to do to take their money.
Bryan K says:
I changed games to golf because in golf, I can compete with myself. There is nothing else on the course as far as I'm concerned. I've noticed that I don't play well when anything at all is on the line, and I guess I'm okay with that. I don't gamble at all anymore. I just play the game because I love the feeling of walking up to the green and seeing how close my approach shot is to the pin. There is nothing like it in the world.
I have never played competitive golf because i golf alone a lot and the people i play with are only playing for social reasons. I would love to play in some local tournament to get the feel of it. I find i elevate my game when i am playing for something (usually pride to whoop father-in-law by as many strokes possible he's an ass), but i still just love to get out and play against myself.
I am 46 and getting into competitive golf for the 1st time thru the Pepsi Tour (open division). I love golf in almost any format that is offered. It has always helped me to play for a little something. I agree with kickntrue. It is no fun to take money from your friends. I prefer playing people for high stakes that I don't know. The only delima there is not knowing if they are playing with integrity. The Pepsi Tour as well as other USGA approved tours are the answer for anyone like me. Play with something on the line and not have to police anyones character but my own.
Matt F says:
I don't gamble on golf but I do like playing League golf for the competition. An older mate and I have joined a two-man team league for this year, so it will be interesting getting to know the people we are playing against and it will be a new competition for us.
If I am on a family "boys" vacation there will be gambling on the course with the teams stacked by the organiser...but the funny thing is is that we rarely pay out because we have an emergency nine that is usually won by the team that lost the first 18.
@mwfaith1979 - You don't gamble on golf?? As Al Czervik said, "Whatta religious or something?" LOL.
Terry, you are absolutely correct - golf versus tournament golf. In casual golf you see players giving themselves those 3 footers WAY too often. This past year at our club championship, we had a young man who routinely would shoot 73-76 in our skins games. He shot in the mid to high 80's each round of the club championship and was devastated. I went to him and reminded him of the difference and also told him the more you put yourself in that position, the more comfortable you will begin to feel.
As Herm Edwards said, "you play to win the game" that's true whether your playing for money or not. I always want to beat the three other guys I play with, not matter what. Not quite sure why you play any game other than to beat the other people your playing with. That's the premise of sports!
@kickntrue --- sorry about the 72-0 game... just couldn't take my foot off the gas!
id have to say i like competitive golf more than anything. I play in as many amateur tournaments i can each summer. What i really like about tournament golf is that i get nervous, and I embrace that because that means that the round really means something to me
Matt F says:
@bducharm - I don't gamble in general. Cause it means I have less money for golf!!
I have been into competition my entire life . From pee wee baseball , to semi pro bowling . I have bowled for large amounts of money . And there is a certain rush you get when you compete for something that will make you pucker a little . Some people can handle it . Some people can't . I would like to see if I can handle "it" in golf . Something was said earlier about beating up on your friends . And I don't get any joy out of beating up on my buddies . They drive me to play better only because I don't want to have to listen to them if they do win .
Love the post - once you can hit the ball, the inner game is by far the most dauting obstacle. This past year, I dedicated most of my thinking toward it - besides shifting from 1 to 3 wedges. I remember getting all excited about our anxiety discussions - which comes primarily from fear of embarassment or fear of bodily harm - like the tight rope walker!
Most people find it easier to lessen expectations or even fail to remove pressure and anxiety. Which is totally appropriate for social reasons. Can you imagine one ape not backing down from the big bull male?
Drinking and golf follows the same pattern - it can lessen the pressure because it takes away expectations with the first sip (which can improve your game temporarily), and then makes it impossible to play (which is the perfect excuse).
That being said, a certain amount of "stress" can improve performance in most walks of life (The last minute papers, the hustle and rush of deadlines). I have never found added pressure to be at all helpfull in golf.
In golf, the better I'm playing, the higher the pressure - and I'm learning to deal with that: 1. Don't add up your score (keep track of other things) 2. Chew on something 3. Sing songs to yourself or repeat helpful mantras 4. Be the golfer you're comfortable with - (Am I my sensible golfer today, or my inner Greg Norman? keep being that guy and playing his game).
Likewise, when you're sucking it's important to keep some emotional distance and patience. Things will even out. Accept that every round has at least one missed shorty, duffed chip, and wild drive.
Your buddies will give you loads of reasons to fail - on the course and in life as well. It's OK to break free from their clutches, if they were good buddies, they'll be happy for you.
There is a kind of crab that can easily climb out of a bucket when alone, but when with other crabs, will be pulled back in - thus none escape.
Tim Horan says:
Playing both sides of the coin...I find that playing for small change, skins or whatever just keeps me focused...whilst I am happy also to go out by myself and create the pressure but in a fun way. Early mornings before anyone is around, the course to myself and just experiment with knock down shots, course management ideas etc. The trick is to take something positive away with you...memorise the good shots, the good holes, the good rounds. They will get you through the real pressure situations, small change or not.
I don't play golf for money, though I'm considering it this year, since I've improved dramatically, and surpassed most of my golfing companions. I find other ways to get joy out of the game. The simple pleasure of beating my brother-in-law (who has been playing since he was a kid) and his dad, who has been playing for many years (possibly more than I have been alive). You don't have to play for money to have pressure. Standing at the tee @ 18 knowing that making par will guarantee a win over a friend, especially one who thinks he's much better than you.
Kurt the Knife says:
I play to walk around in the sun in the grass with my wife. Getting excited when we see each other "get one really good".
I play to see if i can do better than my last round.
thats my competition.
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