Golf Gives Us Energy
“Because it gives us energy, Michael, that’s the single best thing about the game. The better we play, the more energy we get. From now on, ask yourself, after every round, if you have more energy than before you began. ‘Tis much more important than the score, Michael, much more important than the score.”
- John Stark in To The Linksland by Michael Bamberger
John Stark is a golf sherpa instructor who Bamberger meets while traveling through Scotland in need of a new outlook on golf. Stark’s story ends by him explaining that the best thing about golf is that it gives us energy.
This is a fascinating idea, that golf can actually give us energy, but how does it work? He says, “The better we play, the more energy we get.” This hasn’t quite been my experience when playing better.
What Makes Golf Draining?
Most of the time when I have played my best scoring golf and shot under par, it’s been very draining. I’ll make the turn a couple under par, realize what’s happening, and then “start trying hard.” I now have something I can lose, so I do everything I can to hold on. My score suddenly becomes much more important to me than when I started. At first, this line of thinking would doom my under par rounds and I’d crawl in a couple over par. As my skills have improved, I’ve been able to keep the round together and finish under par. After the last putt drops, I feel a sense of accomplishment, but still feel drained physically, mentally, and emotionally.
This past summer, I went on a staff trip to Sand Valley. On our final day of golf a handful of my friends and coworkers limped into the finish. Someone on the winning team spoke of “giving up the game, and going to movies instead.” Another said he didn’t want to touch his clubs again until next year.
I must have been missing something in my interpretation of Stark’s quote. On days when I scored my best, I felt the most drained. My coworkers who just won an event felt drained as well.
On this trip I had the opposite feeling as my coworkers. My team finished in last place, my scores were about average, yet I was full of energy. I went out and played 9 more holes. I saw a past version of myself in those guys, so what changed?
Relationship With Score
The biggest difference between golf giving you energy and golf being draining is your relationship with your score. This is not to be confused with not keeping score, not caring about your score, or anything along those lines. You can care about your score and golf can still give you energy.
My interpretation of what Stark meant was wrong because I assumed “playing better” meant “scoring better” when this is not the case.
Caring and Not Caring
To get energy from golf, you need to care about your score and also not care at all. It is a paradox, and you need to find the right balance. You need to care enough about your score that you concentrate, are present, and make good decisions. Your score acts as a measurement of improvement, and gives you motivation to practice and improve your game.
You also need to not care about your score so that when you hit your first bad shot you don’t feel like the world is falling apart. You need to not care about your score so you can stay patient, stop worrying about the future, and not be so afraid of hitting it in the water that you hit it there anyway. This is a great picture of what it means to “play better.”
A Great Reason To Play
People play golf for so many different reasons. For most people, once you push them a little bit, their reasons for playing revolve around score, and what that score will make others think of them. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but it is more draining than life-giving.
“Because it gives us energy, Michael, that’s the single best thing about the game.” Stark had it figured out, but he didn’t give us a roadmap on how to get there. I’m sure there are many other ways to get energy from golf than the ones I’ve shared, so I encourage everyone to “try on” this reason for playing the game. What about golf gives you energy? What rounds did you finish and want to go right back out again? What does “play better” mean to you? These questions can help us get to some important answers, and get more energy from golf each time we play.