One of my more interesting failures from my rounds in this weekend’s inaugural Lexington Mid-Am Championship was consistently choosing the wrong side in the epic struggle between an invariable pre-shot routine and my perceived pace of play.
Cold, emotionless analysis indicates that I would rather be known as a lesser-skilled or poorer golfer than a better golfer that plays the game at any speed slower than a brisk, almost hustling pace. That brutal truth emerged after some careful reflection of my golf games, and it’s embarrassing.
Within both threesomes this weekend, I played with guys that consistently drove the ball farther than me from the tee, a consequence of moving up a flight to a field of better competition. I prepared myself for the psychological impacts of such a reality, having learned the hard lessons of trying to keep up with the bombers and bashers in previous outings. (The trick is to watch their ball, but not watch their swing).
Being the shortest hitter in the group, though, meant that I was usually the first one to hit an approach shot towards the green. Our group kind of settled into a rhythm wherein we would all tee off, I’d get to my ball first because it was closest to the tee, then the other two players would get on about finding their ball and getting ready to hit.
We all walked our rounds, so it was an easily repeatable experience for all of the non-par three holes. It was a repetition detrimental to my game, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why I kept repeating the same mistake.
Well, actually, if I’m honest, it was in those moments that my angst and desire to be well thought of overrode my golf discipline and strategic self-interest.
The notion that the worst golfer to be paired with is the slow player is an idea that I have championed and supported consistently for at least two decades. It’s such an ingrained element of my golf dogma that the idea that I may slow other players down is offensive to me and causes me actual stress.
Going first on every approach shot meant that I was the gate keeper for our entire group’s pace of play. That was a responsibility that I had never pondered and certainly didn’t handle well to start the day.
I can think of at least two or three shots within the first twelve holes of the second day that likely would have turned out very differently if I had simply taken a little time to think through what I was hoping to do with the shot, gone through my routine, and hit the shot in my normal rhythm and tempo.
Instead, I rushed. In those specific instances, I rushed myself, the key word there being “myself.”
The whole was ridiculous because I was in zero danger of actually playing slow or even being perceived as playing at a slow pace. We were a threesome of walkers that had to wait on every other tee box for the group in front of us (two cart riders and a walker) to clear for us to hit. Our pace of play was incredible for a formal competition (playing the ball down, putting everything out, etc.).
It’s a painful lesson to realize that for all of my pride in being a decent match play golfer, that I could let something so ridiculous and completely mental derail my game. It was a completely self-induced series of errors. My playing partners never said anything, nor did they give off any non-verbal indications that they were put-off (or even aware) of my pace of play. It was all in my head.
I eventually settled in and posted a decent score on the second day of the tournament. We waited on the group ahead of us more on the back nine on Sunday, and I think that helped relieve my anxiety a bit, knowing that the rest of the group wasn’t waiting on me in every fairway.
I’ve wondered aloud before whether I have too big of a hang up on playing golf quickly, if I might be better served slowing down a bit once I go into my shot preparation and pre-shot routine. Honestly, once I get the distance to the pin or green, the time it takes me to pick a target line, take a practice swing, step into address the ball, and make a swing at the ball probably averages 25 seconds, and that’s if I really think about it.
I know and observe all the “ready golf” best practices. My routines, even around the greens, are brief. And I’m a faster pushcart walker than everyone else I’ve ever played golf with, so I now know that all of my angst about playing too slowly was nonsense.
Why dedicate 800 words to something that didn’t really happen in such a matter of fact way? Catharsis, maybe. A cautionary tale to be learned from. If the reminder is painful, it surely won’t be repeated, right? I wonder if I’ve ever made others to feel the way I felt during those two rounds?
The upshot is that, just as sometimes good is good enough, sometimes playing as quickly as one can is certainly quick enough for no one to notice, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?