We learn about life playing games. Sports reveal much about ourselves, our fellow man, our characters and which of us should be allowed to work with children and the elderly. I have learned many lessons coaxing a reluctant, dimpled ball into a 4 ¼”” cylinder.
The ancient game of golf is not simply a means to avoiding taking out the trash, but a cunning allegory for living. As with all “simple” games, following the rules of golf, living its etiquette and protocols and remembering to practice those principles in all our affairs, can prove daunting. Golf’s rules and lessons, when properly followed, can help a person accept life on life’s terms and at the same time, learn colorful swear words.
Golf is life and each public or private course presents us with a range of opportunities to excel or fail. We are confronted with hazards, rough lies and blind shots while all the while seeking the holy grail of par with chivalrous aplomb. To play the game of golf is to vacillate between anger and joy – – similar to spending four hours anywhere with a teenager. Golf offers us wisdom and perspective. We learn to interact with our fellow man, navigate the most treacherous of circumstances and win money from other people without having to cheat. Perhaps if Wall Street executives just had fulltime caddies, we would not need Sarbanes Oxley.
For those who do not play golf but are in search of a theology for living, consider the following gems mined from a life spent hitting from the woods and off hardpan.
Wait Your Turn- Some golfers play golf as if they are the only people on the course. They hit before it is their turn. They putt out that three footer ahead of you (a putt which they usually miss ) saying, ” I’ll just get this out of your way”. This behavior is not confined to the links. These are the same knuckleheads that try to cut in front of you and the mile long security line at La Guardia impatiently saying to the TSA attendant, “I have a plane to catch. “ Uh and I don’t ? These type A’s abuse the gentrified rule for improving speed of play known as “ready golf”. In many cases, there are good reasons for waiting to go until it is your turn, particularly when it comes to death and taxes. Remember that patience suggests emotional maturity and is very handy when there are five people and only four pieces of pie. We all respect someone who can wait their turn. Even the bible says, “The last shall be first”. In the end, the patient golfer wins respect and the first piece of pie in heaven.
Treat Everyone Like a Valued Caddie – Why is it that men will not ask for directions or accept the most basic input from their partners but treat as gold the advice of a bloodshot, toothless caddy named Newt? Because they believe the caddie knows more about the course than they do. In golf and life, there are those that know more about the course, the slope, the dress code and the back alleys of Norwalk than we do. Listen and learn. Asking for help is a sign of maturity. Occasionally, you may get poor advice. Don’t chastise your caddie for a bad read. Take responsibility and remember that it was you that asked that 14 year old kid who thinks Croatia is in South America for advice on the most important shot of the day. Grow up. After the round, big spender, don’t stiff your caddie. Give him/her a big tip and remember that they are not nearly as amused by your tired jokes or honored to carry your bag as you might think.
No Gimmies – Allowing yourself to be “given” a short putt distorts your handicap and puts you at future risk to miss knee knocker tap-ins when something big is on the line. Nothing in life is free and “helping” your friend or customer by giving them a short putt is setting them up to choke. Gimmies are like gateway drugs. It starts with giving each other a few putts here or there and ends up with the two of you knocking off a liquor store in Stamford. Bernard Langer and his buddy, Uwe gave one another gimmies for years and well, look what happened to Langer at the 1991 Ryder Cup?
Never Bet What You Cannot Afford to Lose And Pay Promptly– Do not wager more than .000001 of your net worth in any round of golf. If this results in the need to pay someone using currencies such as the Turkish Lira, than so be it. Money ruins things faster than a 22 year old European au pair. A person will remember the fin you never paid well into their next life. If a guy cannot honor a $5 wager, would you invest in his company?
If It’s Not Yours, Leave It – You hook a ball into the woods and are clinging to a one stroke lead. You find a ball but it is clearly not yours. The angel appears on your shoulder, “Take a lost ball penalty. Remember when you say nobody will see you cheat, you are saying you are a nobody. You will have to live with your dishonesty like a rock in your shoe. Your ball was a Titleist Pro V1, not a Calloway 3” The Devil appears on your other shoulder, “Dude, are you kidding? Your opponent would sell you and his mother to Al Qaeda for a dime and a free drop. Your buddy, Mr Foot Wedge won’t know. Hit the Calloway and beat his right wing, neo con butt”. A word of advice: Leave the Calloway where you found it and take the penalty, especially if the ball is pink.
Never Cross A Golfer’s Line – This, my friend, is the golden rule of man law. A player’s putting line is a sacrosanct, fragile thoroughfare– easily disturbed by poorly mended divots, pebbles and other forms of microscopic debris. To walk across a person’s line is the equivalent of smearing cow dung on their front door and then when caught say, “Ooops, oh, gee, sorry.” The concept of the sacred line applies to a range of other areas such as friend’s spouses, another car while driving in Rome and that Fixed Income job your buddy has at JP Morgan. Don’t cross the other guy’s line. It’s very bad form.
Say No To The Aloha Press- The “Aloha Press” is a desperate, last hole double or nothing bet and was invented by someone who now lives under the Taconic Bridge. The Aloha usually leads to double your misery. If you are getting your rear kicked, it’s usually because you are playing poorly. What is it about human beings that finds us denying 17 holes of empirical evidence for the low probability of one last hole of redemption? The concept of the desperate last gasp gamble is not new and has led CEOs to jail and to the 1995 collapse of Barings Bank when rogue trader Nick Leeson decided to gamble with the house’s money just one more time. Just say no to the Aloe.
Never Bet Against a Guy With a Nickname – Ubiquitous people with names like “Duke”, “Champ” and “Cap” never actually leave your club and sleep on chairs by the pool at night. They are paying alimony to at least three ex spouses. They got their nom de guerres on the practice green, around the course and in college. These back slapping, ambassadors of fun are not retired or independently wealthy, they are actually broke and living off of their inflated handicaps and your hard earned cabbage. Ask Michael Jordan. Unless they are your playing partner, stay away from these adolescent lost souls and don’t ever, ever fix them up with a single friend.
The games of life and golf are inexorably bound. Each day, each round and each hole offers an opportunity for redemption, reflection and reinforcement. A country club is really a microcosm of society, except everyone looks the same, wears ugly pants and cash is not accepted at the bar. In golf as in life, we can achieve happiness and avoid a ” good walk spoiled” by simply showing up on time, following the rules, asking for help, wagering only what we can afford to lose and resisting the temptation to relieve oneself behind a tree.
Simple stuff, really.