A new friend and I decided to embark on an exercise in tolerating frustration: we decided to play a few rounds of golf. We are both middle-aged and retired. Funnily, our wives work at the same place, but do not know each other. He is adjusting to life as a stay-at-home father (with two teenagers), but also doing so in a foreign country. He’s Spanish (from Madrid), and his English is good, but with a lovely accent. He is not new to the game of golf, but is trying to practice and play more often. I am new–all of a month and half at it. We’ve enjoyed practising together, and have played a few holes together, but this week, we decided to go into rougher water. We agreed to try to play a full nine holes (for non-golfers, a course has 18 holes), which would bring us back to the clubhouse.
At the weekend, I had been to the clinic that got me started on this beastly enterprise. We moved from practising on the synthetic mats, to hitting balls off the grass. It is much more difficult. Added to that change of environment, we were hitting the balls uphill, so the travelled less far. Just for good measure, the days was steamy hot and the hitting area was close to a river and the bugs and mosquitoes were happy to have new snacks in their picnic. My friend was not able to join this session (doing fatherly duties taking his son to participate in a regatta), so I exposed him and made him suffer too during a midweek practice. For added grief, the weather had changed dramatically, and was windy, rainy and cold. At the end of the session, we were fittingly aggrieved. We agreed to practice and play the next day. He rushed home to watch Real Madrid play soccer in the European Champions League.
So, the next day, we met and practised for about a half hour then went off to play. The starter added a man to our round, so we were a threesome. We were glad to meet someone new, even though this player looked ready to play much better than us. I was nervous about playing so many holes. My partner just did not feel in the right frame of mind, but we set off anyway. I wondered if he was bothered by Real losing to Bayern Munich the day before. I started well, and hit decently much of the time. My partner could just not get into a groove. The third player was no better nor worse than us.; he soon headed off ahead as he had a pressing appointment. The more my partner thought about what was wrong with his play, the more something else would go wrong. We philosophised along the way. We let an elderly single lady player go ahead of us, with her snazzy pink clubs and pink balls. She swung effortlessly, and made her steady progress. “We should play like her,” said my partner. We pressed on. We came to the 9th hole, renowned for wrecking rounds: a par 3 hole that had a big pond set ahead of the green and wrapping around to the left; bunkers were to the right. I hit a super drive and it went over the water to the right onto dry land and not into a bunker. My partner hit his drive straight into the pond. The day was summed up. We finished the hole and smiled. (I think he was focused on the fact that, arch rivals, Barcelona had also lost their Champions League match, to Chelsea, and would be ready to lose to Madrid when they clash in the Spanish League this weekend.) Two and a half hours of fun? Yes, but with much frustration at every point and being brought back to Earth often and hard. (\We would try again the next day.
Again, we started with some practice, and all was going well on the range. We strode up to the first tee, brimming with confidence. But, we had to wait on the preceding group, and my friend admitted that he was getting nervous. “Don’t be!” I told him. Our time came, and as usual, he asked me to start. My first drive was nice on the left of the fairway. My friend swung and his ball did not sail. His head dropped. We had decided to ‘scramble’ (playing from the best shot, each turn). We moved on to my ball and played toward to green. The ball landed in water, just ahead of a right side bunker by the green. As we approached the water, two heads popped up out of the water. We jumped. Two men were filling bags with balls as they raked their hands on the bottom of the pond. It never occurred to me that this happened so methodically. I now know recovering golf balls from water hazards is a huge industry. We laughed at the shocking and surprising sight. More relaxed, we decided that the round would be good.
My friend played erratically but he smiled more than the day before: “I play the same, but today I am happier,” he said. I hit with more consistency–nice shots with the iron and driver for good distance and direction, and made some decent chips and puts. I think my friend felt good that one of us was doing reasonably. Again, we arrived at the 9th hole. I opted again for the driver, thinking my iron shot would be too short and land in the water. My drive again went right, but this time to apron of the green. My friend swung his 6-iron and the ball sailed beautifully straight…and landed short of the green, in the water. Better stroke, similar result. We finished the hole and again smiled. Another two and half hours of unbridled fun? Yes, but… “Maybe in three months, we can win some championships as a pair?” my partner joked, in his lilting English.
The word we used much as we walked and pulled our bags of clubs was ‘humility’, more so than ‘frustration’. You’re only as good as your last good shot, they say. Plenty of reminders of that in nine holes, but plenty of hope next time you take a swing.