August 1, 2008
There are higher things than competitive golf. But not many. I realized this last year when I sat out my college golf season to do an internship in Washington, DC. It was a great experience, but during my time apart from competitive golf, I felt a void. Some days, I tried to fill this emptiness with Shakespeare and Aristotle, other days with lifting weights and running, but none seemed to satisfy this particular hunger. The problem, I came to find, was not from a deficiency in these enterprises; rather, it was from a lack of applying them to serve a higher end.
Although sports are not the highest of human activities, competitive golf had always given me the opportunity to simultaneously apply both parts of myself—thought and action—in one operation. However, when I reflected back on my past seasons, I realized that I had not always taken advantage of that occasion. So, even though I had no upcoming tournaments, I decided to practice to improve my golf game so that I could enter that full state of being the next time I competed. So, deprived of a car in a congested metropolis, I awkwardly boarded the subway every weekend, armed with my golf clubs to go practice.
When my internship was over, I returned home. With tournament golf coming closer by the day, I decided that I needed to practice more than I had in previous summers. This meant sacrifice. I worked nights at the Dairy Queen so that I could have the day to improve my game. I got less sleep than I wanted, forfeited time with friends, took more lessons, spent money playing in small tournaments, and toiled at the mechanics of the golf swing for that future day that would make it all worthwhile.
Then that day came. It was the last tournament of the fall college golf season—the conference championship. There I was, on the first hole, ready to begin my round. I was nervous and excited, but I began to doubt myself. This was, after all, no ordinary contest, like the ones I had played earlier in the season. This tournament determined which team would emerge as the conference champion—a title that was the tangible reward of that for which I had worked, not to mention the ticket to an automatic berth into the postseason. Seeing the golf course and the competition, I didn’t feel ready for this moment.
As every golfer feels at some point in competition, I nervously stood over my tee shot with a stiff body, hoping that my ball would find the fairway. Luckily, it did, and I got off to a good start. I used this initial momentum to start redirecting my anxious doubts. Over the first nine holes, that doubt slowly began to pass away, and I felt like I was taking control of my game, the golf course…even golf itself. It was intoxicating. All my life the elusive sport had invited me to conquer it, and now, finally, I was in command. I did not fear the golf course, and I was not intimidated by my competitors. I was free. Free to assess the conditions, devise strategies, make decisions, and physically execute them according to my will without the shackles of fear restraining my performance. The only things that stood between me and victory were the limits of my own faculties. When I left the course that day, my team stood in first place with an eight shot lead, and I held the individual lead by three.
We arrived the next day ready to play well and finish off what we had started. For me, it felt as if I had never left the golf course. I stepped onto the first tee as if I had just finished yesterday’s round five minutes ago. With confidence, I strode through the first eight holes and was even par for the day standing on the ninth tee. The ninth was a short hole upon which I had made par my previous two rounds. As was my plan, I pulled out my three-iron and hit it down the right side of the fairway. My second shot was relatively simple. Just a routine eightiron to the middle of the green would assure my par and possibly give me the chance at a birdie. As I hit my shot, I knew that I had made good contact; however, my ball drifted about three yards to the right of the green, hit a tree, and kicked twenty yards straight back into the water in front of the green. As I watched the ball trickle into the water, I could feel my heart painfully sinking into my stomach. The ball was deep in the water, so there was no chance of hitting it out. I had to take a penalty and drop the ball on the opposite side of the river. The angle at which I had to enter the green was difficult to say the least, and my next shot sailed over the green. I finished the hole with a seven, a triple bogey on the ninth hole.
Aware that this atrocity had cost me at least two shots, I proceeded to the tenth tee to continue my round, trying to regain that state of command I was in less than twenty minutes ago. But this had slipped out of my grasp, and I played my last nine unable to recover those lost shots. After hands had been shaken and scorecards signed, I rushed over to the leader board to see how our team had fared. Everyone was crowded around the leader board; the tournament had to be close. I pushed through the crowd only to become the inflictor of my own anguish. Our team had lost by one shot—one shot out of the eight-hundred and eighty shots that comprised our team score. After all of the work and internal struggles, finishing one shot short felt like being spit in the face by someone who had just stolen my possessions.
On my way to leave the course, I passed the tree on the ninth hole. The lingering pain tempted me to believe that all of the work I had done was futile. It taunted me. But, I remembered how that sublime state had felt for most of the tournament. How it engaged my whole being and fed my inner longing for freedom—freedom to be in command and to emerge victorious. Then and there, golf was inviting me to challenge it again, and I knew that just like last spring, I had a choice to make. Was it worth it to continue toiling and sacrificing just to have a chance to be in this position again? And if it was, would victory again be stripped from me? These questions could not be resolved at the time. In fact, I ask myself these questions every day. My answer has always been the same. And I anxiously await that future day that will make it all worthwhile.
Joe D’Andrea is a senior from Westerville, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and