Thank You, Golf – Life on the Playing Field

The past two articles have been focused on the sports that most people follow, whether that be as closely as I do or just from afar. But today I want to focus on a sport that doesn’t get the amount of attention it should, a sport that means a whole lot to me, has shaped me into the athlete and person I am today. That sport is golf.

Now, I know what you’re thinking before even continuing with this article: golf is boring. My job today is to try and change that thinking all together. My experiences playing and being around golf from a young age might give me a bit of a bias on the subject, but trust me when I tell you that once this article is over, you might be thinking about it in a whole different light.

Again, this journey begins with my dad. My dad has always loved golf, whether playing it or watching it, attending tournaments or following certain players from the beginning to the end of their careers. One player that most people know is Tiger Woods. One of the greatest golfers to ever play the game, behind the legendary Arnold Palmer (yes, the guy the drink is named after), and Jack Nicklaus, Tiger has won 14 major championships (which includes 4 Masters titles, 3 U.S. Open titles, 3 wins at The Open, and 4 PGA Championships) and 79 PGA Tour events, which ranks 2nd all time. He turned professional in 1996 at the age of 21, and won his 1st Masters title just a year later, in 1997, the year I was born. He’s pretty good.

So when I was 7 years old, I was exposed to the sport quite often. I remember asking my parents to open up YouTube on the basement computer so I could watch Tiger Woods’ best shots, the infamous fist pump after a clutch putt, the flawless precision of his swing. That’s when I knew I wanted to try this sport for myself. I begged and begged my parents to get me into lessons, anywhere, with anyone, I just wanted to learn. I wanted to be on the 18th green with the game on my putter, calm, cool, and collected, like Tiger showed so many times.

My parents eventually gave in, and I started lessons at Oak Brook Golf Club with a man named Ian Grant. He was the best and only coach I ever had during my 6-year career. I can still smell the pro shop, the rough cut of the grass on the driving range, the low hum of a golf cart driving by. There was a little shed on the driving range, where the pros and coaches set up their computers, cameras, everything they would need to help get people better at the game of golf. As a warm up, I would have to walk with my bag to the opposite side of the range, where the lessons were held. I would make the trudge across, trying to center my mind and get mentally prepared for whatever practice had in store that day (usually a lot of chip shots and iron shots – those were my weaknesses when I first started).

The first day of lessons, my dad had taken me across the range to meet my coach. My clubs were brand spankin’ new, clanking against each other as I made my way to the shed. I hadn’t planned it, but when I met Mr. Grant, I just asked him if he could make me swing like Tiger Woods. He had asked me what my goals were in taking lessons, and all I wanted to do was to be like Tiger Woods. I wanted to swing like him, I wanted to work on my composure, keeping it together like he does so well. Patience was never something I was good at, rather it has been an acquired skill, largely in part because I simply played the game of golf. I looked him in the eye and said, “I want to be the next Tiger Woods.”

From there, I never let myself stray away from my goal: winning. I joined the Illinois Junior Golf Association (IJGA) and played in tournaments all over the Chicagoland area. I usually was one of the few girls who competed against boys. I still had to tee off from the ladies’ tees, which made me pretty mad. If Mr. Grant let me tee off from the men’s, why couldn’t I tee off from them in competition? I taught myself how to not focus on the little things, rather focus on the things I could control: my swings, my mental focus, my game.

Golf is a funny game. It can test every last nerve you have, it can make you slam your driver into the ground, fuming and frustrated like you’ve never been before. But it can also give you a freeing sense of confidence, a sense of control and mental strength. Everything about the game is in your control: from your grip pressure to the choice of your club on any given shot. You can choose to approach each tee with a fresh slate, or you can choose to approach each tee with anger. There’s a saying in sports, “it’s 90% mental and 10% physical”, and golf is the perfect example in proving that statement true.

But let me tell you this: it doesn’t come easy. Golf is a game you must fail over and over again to get one inch of success. It’s not meant for everyone. To play golf, really play golf, you’ve got to be tough in the mind. If you think you can’t make par on that hole, you’re most definitely not going to make par on that hole. It’s a game of little white lies: tell yourself you can do anything, that you’ve trained your mind for this, and you’ll get by just fine.

The toughest part for me was the mental aspect of the game. I had the physical skill set, driving the ball out of the woods and keeping it simple on the green. But as I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been the world’s most patient person. My golf career has had its fair share of outbursts on the range or on the course (rarely did it happen on the course, I tried to keep my cool in competition. It was pretty tough). I’d throw clubs, mutter curse words to myself, tell myself I wasn’t good enough to play this difficult game. There were plenty of moments where I wanted to quit, just give it up and move onto another sport. But I kept coming back to the reason why I decided to play in the first place: Tiger Woods.

I persevered through. I realized I loved the game too much to just throw in the towel on all my hard work, on all of Mr. Grant’s hard work. The love of the game sometimes can be an overwhelming feeling of passion and gratitude. It can bring you back when you seem to have lost all kinds of hope, it can get you out of bed every single Saturday morning to play another 18 holes. I loved the game and what it had given me too much to give up just yet.

Golf has a lot of hidden life lessons: mental toughness, patience, perseverance, a special kind of inner confidence that isn’t common in everyday life. It taught me to believe in myself, even when my back was up against the wall (or, in many cases, my drive ends up in the rough or worse, out of bounds), even after every single slice and hook shot, whiff and divot in the ground. How can a game full of failures keep reeling you back in, each and every time you think you’re through? How can a game that tests you and pushes you until it breaks you still convince you to take one more swing, one more putt, one more round?

It’s been a while since I’ve played golf competitively, but it’s with me every single day. When I’m stuck in rush hour traffic and have to be somewhere: patience. When I face an obstacle that seems impossible to hurdle, giving me every reason to give up: mental toughness. When I’m mentally and physically exhausted to the point where it’s just too much to handle, but convincing myself to get through it: perseverance. When I decided to start a blog, putting my heart and soul out for the internet to read: confidence. I don’t need to be on a course every weekend anymore to understand what golf has done for me. I just have to look inside and know that all the years I spent working on myself are from this wonderful, crazy, frustrating, and exciting game called golf.

And for that, I’d like to say: thank you, golf. Thank you, Tiger.

GolfMy 3rd grade show and tell presentation. I dressed up like a golfer (all Nike, because Tiger Woods) and brought my bag to tell the class why I loved the game.

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My very first PGA Tournament, the BMW Championship in Lake Forest, Illinois. I saw Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day (who got a hole-in-one on the 17th hole).

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