Thursday evening, I had the incredibly gratifying and humbling experience whilst walking nine holes at my home course to start the holiday weekend. Cramming five days of work into four long days had worn me down, and I needed to get out to walk some of the stress away.
This was the third consecutive evening I’d managed to sneak in nine holes after work this week, as I was preparing for my impending first match-play round ever this weekend.
In my typically anxious fashion, I had been fretting for several days about how I would play in this unfamiliar format with people I don’t know. The Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome was unusually crowded for a Thursday night, so the round was a slow walk, which only served to increase how hard I was grinding on every shot.
After butchering my nemesis, the fifth hole, with three bad swings, I was convinced that the upcoming match would be a brutal disappointment and became resigned to just trying not to embarrass myself Saturday. Nevermind that I was still two days away from the match. I was borderline despondent.
Then, something magical happened.
Now, I’ve been told many times if you listen hard enough, eventually you will hear what you need to hear when you need to hear it. As I waited on the sixth tee for the fairway to clear, the father-daughter team playing behind me finally caught up.
I don’t know if it was divine intervention or just an incredible coincidence, but there on the sixth tee, I embarked upon the exact experience that I needed to have before I completely melted down into misery over the upcoming tournament round.
What happened next was that I had the great privilege to play my last four holes with Fred and Casey. Clad in their Special Olympics golf shirts, their alternate shot game fit nicely into the rhythm of my practice round, and over the course of those four closing holes, I was reminded why golf can be such an amazing game.
Fred was courteous, funny, and completely comfortable in what he was doing on the golf course. Casey’s frequent giggles were perhaps the best laughs I’ve heard in a long time. Few of their shots went where they wanted them to, but it that was perfectly okay with them.
Casey was quiet and sweet and had a pretty darn good left-handed golf swing. More than once, she bested me by hitting better quality putts than I did on the greens.
Sure, between them, there were a handful of topped shots and other missed golf shots by Fred or Casey. But there was never a huff of frustration out of either of them. There were no tears or sobs from Casey, and no overbearing or patronizing advice from Fred.
I’m not actually an old man yet, despite my curmudgeonly tendencies, but I’ve been around long enough to know and admit when I’ve been a horse’s ass, if only inside my own head. In the context of both my golf game and my life in general, until I played a few holes with Casey and Fred, I had recently allowed myself to become selfish, even narcissistic, letting a lot of trivial worries to grow into full-blown crosses to bear, unable to get of my own way.
Then, Thursday evening, if just for a little while, I stopped worrying myself and my golf game into paralysis. I forgot that I was disappointed that my handicap was back in double-digits and frustrated that my recent scores were higher than I expected by this time of the year. I even remembered that no one really cares how well or how poorly I play the game of golf.
Instead, I remembered that golf is a game that can be extremely fun. I was reminded that everyone can practice good etiquette, and that a smile and a kind word can change someone’s entire day. Casey’s smile and Fred’s laughter changed my day completely.
And then something nearly as magical, though comparatively inconsequential, happened: I started to play dramatically better golf. By just enjoying my new found company and trying to make sure they were comfortable with (and hopefully enjoying) my company, almost as a side effect or afterthought, I was able to get out of my own way and truly enjoy a game of golf.
I’m so grateful that on the golf course, of all places, I was reminded exactly what it means to have perspective. What an incredible gift to have been given!
I don’t know how I’ll play in the match-play event, and I’m not even sure I’m really going to care that much about the result. But I do know that I’m going to enjoy it so much more now because two strangers were nice enough to play up with me for our last few holes of the evening .
And I’m not sure if Casey competes in golf in the Kentucky Special Olympics, but if how she played Thursday is any indication of her skill and ability level, I’m pretty sure she is going to win a medal, if she hasn’t done so already.
So, Dear Readers, in a rare moment of clarity and absolute certainty, I implore you to remember that for all our effort, frustration, analysis, and desire, please remember that after is all said and done, golf is just a game. Happy Independence Day!