Making the decision to take golf lessons, especially if you’ve been playing the game for decades, can feel like admitting defeat.
No one likes to be forced into the conclusion that their game is irretrievably broken. It’s embarrassing. It’s admitting that you can’t help yourself out of a bind.
For men, taking a lesson can be even more of an ego-bruiser. We have to go to another man and basically say, “I’m bad at being a man. Can you help me find my manhood again?” That naked admission of failure is not something men like to do. I’m guessing there are some men reading this who, if they stepped in a bear trap in the woods, would sooner gnaw their foot off than ask for help.
So let it be stipulated, asking for help with your golf game isn’t a behavior that comes naturally to many men. It’s particularly true for older gentlemen who were raised during the “Toughen up, Buttercup, the world isn’t fair,” era of American parenting.
And so we arrive at the crossroads I entered several weeks ago. I was standing in a bear trap, lost in the golfing wilderness, salivating at the prospect of gnawing my foot off, while pathetically searching for my lost manhood. Not a pretty image.
To be more specific, I couldn’t hit a driver. Every shot was either a high, severe slice or a low screaming hook. I never knew which one would appear. It felt like driving a car that, at every intersection, would violently and unexpectedly turn left or right when all you wanted to do was go straight.
That will wear on a golfer. Eventually, it will break them.
My driving was so bad that I had to punch out to put myself in a better position to punch out. When I’d finally make it to the green, my buddies would ask, “What are you putting for?”
“My sanity,” I’d respond.
You’d think at this point I’d call the Pro at my club and block-off his month. Nope.
For the uninitiated in obstinate golfer behaviors, this is when you go to Google. Do me a favor, google “Golf Instruction” and click on “videos” in the toolbar. I got more than 30 million results. Now, if you assume each video is two minutes long that’s about 114 years, non-stop, of videos to watch.
And like me, you know - you know in the pit of your soul! - the answer to all your golfing woes is contained in one of these videos. You just don’t know which one. After about an hour my head was swirling like Russell Crowe’s in “A Beautiful Mind” with angles of descent, weight distribution ratios, and ball placement grids.
I was cautiously optimistic when I went to the range. It was then I finally tied myself into the golfing equivalent of the Gordian Knot. If I wasn’t broken before, I was now. I slinked back to the Pro shop, removed my man card from my wallet, slammed it on the counter, and declared, “I’m not worthy.”
And an amazing thing happened. I immediately felt better.
The emasculating myself part wasn’t fun, but once I admitted I had a problem I couldn’t fix, I unknowingly took the biggest step towards recovery. More importantly, I realized my brain was 99% of the problem. I’d mentally wandered down a dark tunnel with no exits. Giving in to professional help released me from my self-imposed exile.
I’d love to tell you the Pro solved all my issues and now I’m playing my best golf ever. That’s not remotely true. But more than any swing tip, my instructor gave me the most important thing I’d lost: Hope.
Sure, we worked on the physical parts of my swing. But the new hope was not emanating from a fuller turn, or a bent elbow, or any other physical movement. It was reignited in my brain.
Like most golfers, I’m still searching for my swing. What I now understand with the help of a professional is that it exists. It’s out there. I thought I’d looked everywhere for it, and in the process, I’d lost hope.
Now I believe, like Percival in Arthurian legend, that the holy grail of golf swings is out there. It may not look like anyone else’s, but it’s mine. I might not ever find it, but I can’t stop looking. Percival was eventually rewarded for his faith. My Pro helped me see that the journey is equally important to the destination.
By giving myself permission to experiment, fail, and keep experimenting, I found I not only started to see some small improvements, but I enjoyed the game a lot more.
That was a powerful lesson indeed.