Tag Archives: relationships

Head Games


As Jack Nicklaus entered the final years of his playing career, he joked that he had become a “ceremonial golfer.” These days, he has fully realized that particular title, having become part of the triumvirate that fires off the opening shots at Augusta each year. The Golden Bear remained remarkably competitive well into his 50’s, particularly at the Masters, where he found himself on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday several times. But despite the relative longevity of career that golf affords, physical and mental wear and tear eventually catch up with even the best players – particularly the latter.


At the height of their powers, Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones (all of whom were the best of their respective eras) were incredibly focused at their craft, and were so mentally tough that oftentimes they could pull off a tournament win without having their best game. One of Jones’s most memorable quotes cites the most important 6 inches in the game of golf is the space between a golfer’s ears. It’s also instructive to know that Jones retired from competitive golf at the age of 28, explaining that “(championship golf) is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there.”


Hogan, of course, was ultimately done in by a combination of the aftereffects of a horrific automobile accident and a stupefying case of the putting yips. Woods’s is a story yet unfinished, but it’s pretty clear that since 2009, he’s fought an inward battle along with dealing with the physical ailments that have plagued him.


For most of us who play the game recreationally, if the word “tournament” is thrown into the mix, even on a course on which we regularly play, a nervousness [sometimes even a panic] sets in. Instead of the usual light-hearted banter and needling one generally hears on the practice range, there’s a grim silence punctuated only by shots of varying degree of quality and the occasional oath either muttered or bellowed. And this is just on the practice tee.


And then the round begins, and we are paired with guys with whom we are at least acquainted and oftentimes are good friends, but this is a tournament, dammit, we need to bear down! More often than not, this scenario results in shots that can only be defined as stupefying, turning otherwise decent, clear-thinking men or women into emotional mush.


I have to say that more often than not, I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve managed some decent tournament performances, and even have won a few, although I tend to think the reason for that was because the formats under which they were played were so convoluted that it was hard to know how I stood during the course of the completion, so I didn’t let that part of it enter my mind. Whereas in a straight-up stroke play competition, I was usually pretty much toast going into things.


The Golf Nerd Goddess has played in a number of two and four person team events, and has generally fared well. Recently, however, she decided (or was coerced, in her words) into our Women’s Golf Association’s Match Play event. The matches were seeded, with lower handicappers taking on higher handicappers in the first round. The GNG is in the latter group, so she wound up drawing the reigning Woman’s Club Champion in her first match, and was understandably concerned with this particular match-up.

I tried the usual pep talk – hey, you’re getting a lot of strokes; she’s going to be as nervous as you; it will be a good experience. Her circle of golf friends all told her “just go out and have fun” while also providing her with all sorts of advice on how to beat her opponent (which they all wanted her to do, as it would greatly improve their chances in the tournament). All of which did nothing to make her any less apprehensive. To make matters worse, her match was delayed a week due to heavy rains that came through the area.

We had gone out on the course a few times to prepare for the match, particularly from a mental aspect (those who know me would scoff at the thought of me playing the role of Sports Psychologist, and I would not blame them). Our main focus was to play one shot at a time and repeat the same routine each time. We seemed to be making some progress.

Match day arrived, and GNG was nervous (she had awakened me at about 2:30 AM that morning to tell me she couldn’t sleep and had mentally played all 18 holes. I had to laugh, as I’ve gone through that same ordeal). We went over to the club to warm up, and then met up with the WCC and her husband. At this point I should mention that all of us are friendly; we’ve play rounds and dined together previously. But this was a “tournament round.”

And it showed. Both ladies were nervous; I could tell that the GNG was playing much too quickly, but because of the “no advice” rule, I couldn’t really say anything to her about it. But she hit just enough really good shots (while the WCC hit just enough poor ones) so that they were even after nine holes.

Unfortunately, things unraveled for the GNG at the start of the back nine. Some bad shots, a (under any other circumstances) hilarious putting display by both players on 10, and a ball in the water on 12 suddenly put her three down. I felt horribly for her, figuring that she was broken.

I was wrong – a 50-foot putt on 13 halved that hole, and then another lengthy putt dropped for her on 14 to bring her back to two down with four holes to go. But a golden opportunity to close to within 1 went for naught, and the WCC closed her out on 16.

The ladies hugged and I kissed the GNG, who wore an expression somewhere between disappointment and relief. “You made her sweat,” I told her.

We had lunch, ran a few errands, and then settled in for the evening. We talked about the match over several glasses of wine; I stressed how proud I was of her for not quitting and that the experience would help her in the future. She had seemed to accept the outcome all right, and we decided to turn in early.

I turned on the TV; we climbed into bed – and suddenly she blurted out – “I could have won that match! She was nervous; she did not play her best! I SHOULD have won!”

I tried again to explain that this was a building block, that she’d be better prepared next time .

“I don’t care! I lost. I feel terrible. How can anybody think this is fun?”

For that, I had no answer. I’m sure Jack, Tiger, Ben and Bobby would be at a loss, as well.


Spousal Golf (A Survival Guide)

Guys, you might have the best woman in the world (well, actually, I do, so it’s going to be a tie at best), but there are seven words that she might say to you that should at the very least give you pause:

“Would you teach me to play golf?”

Now, before the females in the audience start a “Tar and Feather Gary Popovich” Facebook page, I need to clarify something. Sharon (a/k/a “The Golf Nerd Goddess,” or “GNG” if you are into the brevity thing) is a golfer; we each have our own group that we play with on Saturdays, and then we play together on Sundays. We have fun when we play together – sometimes we’ll compete (with handicaps, of course), but we always enjoy each other’s good shots, commiserate on the not-so-good ones, and have lunch and a cocktail or two afterwards (or sometimes during, if things are not going particularly well). Golf is a major part of our life together, and we both embrace it.

The distinction, however, is that Sharon was an experienced golfer when we met; it was one of our mutual attractions.  She understands the rules and etiquette of the game; moreover, while she has her inconsistencies like just about everyone else who plays, she’s capable of pretty good golf. As a couple, we have a combined total of 1 hole-in-one’s; my contribution to that number is zero.

And I do not subscribe to my Neanderthal friends assertion that “golf” is an acronym for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” There are plenty of women who can tan the hide of most of the guys I play with.

But back to “the question”.  If you are asked “the question”, the correct answer is “No.” That is not to say that you don’t want her to play golf. But if she’s truly interested in learning the game, you cannot be the primary vessel that transports her on that journey.

First of all: GET PROFESSIONAL HELP – as in a PGA Teaching Professional. In all likelihood, you haven’t a clue as to where to begin to teach a proper golf swing. In fact, unless you are a 5 handicap or less, you likely haven’t a clue about your own swing, and could probably stand a lesson yourself [NOTE: I am raising my own hand here].  MAYBE you can teach her to putt, but I wouldn’t impart any wisdom once you leave the green.  In any event, get her lessons, and talk with her instructor about what swing keys/thoughts are being discussed.  It will be helpful for you to remind her of these things, plus you might get some advice that’s applicable to your own game.

Secondly: THE DREADED “P” WORD – you probably already know that to become even a mediocre golfer requires a significant time investment and practice. Unless your wife has played another sport, she will probably not understand that, and you trying to explain that to her will be one of those arguments that you won’t win. Trust me on that one. But if it comes from her instructor, she might listen.

Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly): BEHAVE YOURSELF – beyond the technical aspects of the game, there’s understanding the etiquette and nuances of playing the game.  This, of course, is essential for any novice, but what you say to your male friend when he steps in your putting line (“Listen, [insert disgustingly explicit descriptor here], don’t step in my line”) will likely have you put on conjugal probation by the one you love.

My own attempts at dealing with Point the Third with both of my exes were like the brown acid at Woodstock; i.e.; not specifically too good. I recall an early round with Mrs. Golf Nerd #2 (a/k/a, She Who Will Seldom Be Mentioned Except for Illustrative Purposes) in which our respective shots wound up in the same general area. My ball was in the fairway; hers, unfortunately,found some nasty rough. When I helpfully pointed that out to her, she responded in accusatory fashion:

“How do you know that’s your ball and the other one is mine?”

“I’m playing a Titleist, honey. You’re playing a Top-Flite.”

“How do you know that?”

“I checked before we started.”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“Well, for one thing, your ball is pink.”

Ok, I did make up that last response. But much like man’s fundamental cluelessness regarding proper toilet seat maintenance, there are certain aspects of the game that may be intuitive to you but make no sense at all to your mate.  So you’ll probably want to curb your natural urge to be a smartass when explaining certain courtesies like not talking while another golfer is about to hit, or that the motorized golf cart is not an amphibious vehicle.

The good news in all of this is that there are more women playing than ever, and if your lady has friends who play, she might be able to have them be her collective golfing mentor. The GNG is particularly good at this; she has a group of women who are known as the “Klassy Beyothches” (a/k/a“The KBs”) who have a wide range of skill levels, from 8 handicap to rank beginners.  All they ask of the latter is that if one of them has reached 8 or 9 shots on a hole, then she should pick up and move on to the next hole.  The KBs have a lot of fun, move their way through the course at a reasonable pace, and definitely hold their own in the 19th hole.

In any event – the other thing to keep in mind is that you’ve might have been asked “the question” because she wants to spend more time with you. If that’s the case, then by all means, get her going on the game – but have a contingency plan just in case it’s not her cup of tea. And maybe write to Ann Landers. This is a golf column, not Advice for the Lovelorn.

Waiting to Tee Off At the Old Course