When I was a teenager, I golfed. Once. It did not end well. Or start well for that matter. Suffice to say, my game failed to ascend to the dizzy heights of my expectations. Underperforming clubs were subsequently thrown -- tomahawked, boomeranged, javelined -- into a cluster of trees. An unsuspecting sapling suffered needlessly. And I retired from the game without an ounce of dignity or grace.
Fast forward a century or so, to about 13 years ago when I took up golf once again, this time at the urging of my wife who envisioned it as an activity we could do together well into our dotage -- which, in the eyes of our offspring, was fast approaching. With a single swing of the club I became acutely aware that A) if you want to be truly good at golf, you have to take it up in your youth B) like my initial horrible hit off the tee, I was nonetheless hooked.
Which surprised me. I'd spent so many years thinking that golf was middle-aged lame, to the point where you could say I was in Coco's Camp. Coco's Camp? Years ago, rock-star Sting was photographed scandalously leaving an 'adult club' in Germany in the wee hours. When asked for a comment on her father's unbecoming behavior, Sting's daughter Coco sighed indifferently and said something to the effect of, well, at least he wasn't out golfing.
Perhaps Coco was unaware that there are secrets to enjoying the game of golf. Secret Number One, of course, is to take up the game only when you are good and ready -- that is, when you actually want to be out lollygagging on the links, and when you are emotionally mature enough to not meltdown over a mishit, and to leave be all tree clusters and unsuspecting saplings. Which brings me to The Second Secret:
Never take the game, or yourself, too seriously. Because it is only a game. And because you're not Tiger Woods or... insert the name of your favorite golfer. I know I've learned to not take the game seriously. Granted, when played at my level of remarkably consistent incompetence, there's a guaranteed level of levity built right into the sport. Also, I once played with a buddy who had a classic refrain he used to cool off any hotshot who was taking himself too seriously: "You know," he'd say, "you're really not that good to get that upset after missing that shot..." Yeah, so lighten-up, Francis.
Secret Three sort of piggybacks on Secret Two. While you're busy not taking the game or yourself seriously, keep in mind -- and this is one of those facts that eludes many a casual duffer -- that just because you have a good shot or two does not mean you are ready to join the professional ranks. Because, face it, those good shots will invariably be followed by a succession of unspeakably bad shots.
Personally speaking, my speciality is sailing onto the green of an epic par-five in two (rousingly spectacular) shots. And then coolly four-putting. Granted, not everyone has my innate four-putt prowess; not everyone can so easily turn a most-certain par (if not birdie or eagle) into an unfathomable bogey.
Secret Four is possibly the best-kept secret when it comes to enjoying the game of golf. Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Don't practice. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, practice does not make perfect. By practicing religiously, you're probably just perfecting your assorted imperfections, or helping yourself to a hernia. Or acute tendonitis. Oh, and the more you practice, the less time you have to actually play the game. It's that simple. Or that mind-bogglingly complex.
Finally, if you want to be as gaga over golf as I am gaga over golf, here is Secret Five, the most important secret of all. Choose your playing partners wisely. Consider: these are the people with whom you are going to solve all the world's problems, and unravel all the universe's great mysteries as you meander from hole to hole. More significantly, these are the guys you're going to con into picking up the tab on the 19th hole!
Pick the right partners and you will find that each time you get out onto the course you will lose yourself -- in conversation, concentration, and consternation (alas, the game bewilders as it betrays). Pick the right partners and you'll lose yourself in laughs.