Beautifully Frustrating: Golf is a Four-Letter Word For a Reason
I was born on April 22, 1991. It was Earth Day, and it was the day after Ian Woosnam won The Masters. Hence, my first name. While my pain in the ass was making my mom’s life a living hell during a 30 — yes, I said 30 — hour delivery, she found patience while watching golf’s most prestigious tournament and the green jacket ceremony.
My mom’s 30-hour ordeal is the perfect metaphor for a game that I learned to adore and detest throughout the years: a painstaking, arduous process that has a tiny moment that makes it all worthwhile – golf.
A proficient golfer is hard to come by. My dad once told me in my early teen years, “If you can break 100, you’re in the top 10 percent of the golfers in the world.” He would also qualify this statement with one of his favorite sayings, “There’s a reason why golf is a four-letter word.”
I never questioned the accuracy of his statistic, but what he was trying to get across made sense. After all, we had seen plenty of Toms, Dicks and Harrys tee it up and display horrendous swings, while also marveling at the rarity of witnessing someone shoot under par.
For the retired senior citizen or casual businessman strutting around the course out of leisure, golf is merely a game, a recreational activity. This is likely one of the reasons why a golf tournament is more likely to be compared to the World Series of Poker than the World Baseball Classic.
But for the guys who play weekly on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, and anyone who has ever teed it up in a nerve-racking golf tournament, it’s a sport. It’s a sport that can be fun, but can also test one’s patience, etiquette and ability to bite your tongue while holding in obscenities.
What makes golf so fascinating to me is the insane amount of focus, humility and patience that it requires for success. My first 18 holes came when I was 7 years old. As part of a family reunion, the men went to the golf course while the women and children went off on their own. I somehow snuck my way in with the men and headed to the course with just a 7-iron in my possession.
As the morning of golf started, I rode in the cart in between my dad and uncle with my 7-iron dangling between my legs. My dad hadn’t paid for me, but once we were out of sight from the clubhouse, he and the other family members in our five-some let me drop a ball on the tee-box and swing my left-handed iron stick.
I topped my first shot into a water hazard on a par-3 and could care less that it was a horrible swing. I laughed and ran back to the cart practically sitting in my dad’s lap as he steered while my baby teeth protruded from behind my open mouth.
Throughout the day I experienced the beauty of a golf course, from the architect’s designs in the fairways to the picturesque scenery, lakes, foliage and bunkers. The guys taught me not to walk over the line of someone else’s putt, an action that may seem minor, but could misdirect a putt and upset playing partners.
They taught me that chipping on the green with a 7-iron and unearthing a pristine green wasn’t the greatest idea, that I should wait for my dad to buy me a putter. I don’t recall hitting any proficient shots that day. My hands weren’t big enough to form a proper grip and my swing was a mess, but the challenging game and the experience that gave me five hours of time to spend alongside my hardworking father kept me coming back.
In high school, my love for golf turned into an unhealthy relationship. After practicing on occasion for years, I began shooting in the 90s and then the 80s, well past my dad’s proclamation of breaking 100. With higher standards, I put pressure on myself to make my school’s golf team, which happened to be one of the best in the state of California.
As my expectations rose, my scores ballooned and I began slamming my clubs out of frustration with regularity. Shouting at slow foursomes ahead of me and acquiring Tiger Woods’ explosive personality on the course, I lost sight of the game that I had once loved, and I hated that I was good enough to be proficient but not good enough to be great.
When people applauded my 20-foot par putts, I’d complain that I shouldn’t have hit the previous putt 20 feet past the cup. I finally realized how much of an asshole I had become when I threw down my sand wedge after an errant shot in preparation for a tournament and snapped the club in two. My dad didn’t witness it, but I was embarrassed to show him what I had done to a Callaway iron that he gave me for Christmas two years prior.
A baseball player can gnash his teeth together and throw or swing harder in pressured situations. On the gridiron, a football player can hit harder or run faster. But a golfer must remain patient, a virtue that I lacked. In high school, I looked at golf too much as a sport and a job, rather than a game, something that holds some of the world’s best golfers back from pulling out victories.
When Phil Mickelson’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, Phil played for her and played golf as a game, an outlet, not as a job. And he won The Masters. In the 2011 Masters, Rory McIlroy led the field for the first three rounds. When he hit the back nine at Augusta, the pressure got to him. After hooking a couple of balls into the woods, he sunk down into his shirt sleeve and looked for some way to escape.
Those who pressure themselves to win it all, who forget to say, “that waterfall and rock formation is beautiful” after throwing away strokes, are those who take the sport too seriously.
Since going off to college, I only play golf sporadically throughout the year. Sitting in the passenger seat of a golf cart with my arm around my dad is all it takes to make me happy on a golf course now.
I never practice, but because I’ve been playing golf as a game, rather than a competitive sport, it has made the experience much more enjoyable and my scores have improved.
The hardest day of my life will be the day that I can no longer share a golf cart with my father. As I contemplated this thought with an iron in my hands on a Saturday afternoon last year, the carefree 7-year-old returned and the game of golf was beautiful once again.