Seek progress, not perfection. The perfect swing doesn’t exist. -Leonard Finkel
I’m what’s commonly referred to as a “hacker” when it comes to golf. In fact, if you look up hacker in the dictionary it says, “See Greg Giesen.” I’m serious. A hacker is someone who never puts the time or effort into improving their golf game; hence it’s erratic at best, and never improves.
I want to improve; it’s just that I can’t seem to recall all of the stuff that I’m supposed to remember when I’m swinging at the ball. It’s hard enough being me, with all the voices I already have in my head, let alone all the uninvited golf pros that join the cacophony the moment I step onto the course. It gets a little crowded up there, if you know what I mean.
I’ve tried to quit the game altogether on numerous occasions. The problem is the golf gods like to play practical jokes on me, especially on the last hole. For whatever reason, my best shot of the day always occurs on the last hole, making me believe that I’m actually improving. How crazy is that?
A few years ago, after quitting golf for the 567,321st time, I had a revelation. Actually, it could have been indigestion, but it led to an insight just the same. It went something like this: Perhaps the reason I’m terrible at golf is because I’m not applying myself. Maybe I need a more concentrated approach—like intense lessons for four straight days—at a luxury resort in Phoenix—with friends?
It was as if the golf experts in my head threw me a Hail Mary pass, attempting to salvage what little was left of my game. Perhaps with the right teachers, instruction, equipment, and technique, they reasoned, I could actually improve my game.
Are you buying this so far? I did. And I proceeded to talk some friends and family members into joining me. Why not! I figured. Even if my golf goes south, at least I’ll have some fun.
And Then Reality Set In…
I went to the golf school in Phoenix and immersed myself in every little nuance around the game. I developed a new swing. I purchased new clubs. I practiced day and night. I even bought a fancy glove that matched my golf bag. And I studied too. I diligently created a stack of “how-to” tips and put them on index cards so that I could pull them out at any time on the course for direction. I was a golf machine. I looked good, I felt good, and I was confident.
And yet my game got worse.
By the end of the four days, my ball had hit more houses and landed in more pools than a hailstorm. I think the homeowner’s association may have issued a warrant for my arrest before I left.
“I quit!” I told my uncle Roger as we drove to the Phoenix airport.
“You can’t quit!” he shouted. “You just spent over a thousand dollars on these lessons. You need to give it time.”
“I quit,” I said. “I don’t want to ever see a golf ball as long as I live. I’m done. And I mean it this time,” I cried.
He could only shake his head.
The Phoenix Airport
My delayed flight back to Denver gave me an unexpected couple of hours to roam around the airport and check out the various stores and shops. I’m normally not a shopper, but there was a lot of commotion in the little bookstore right across from my gate. I went to see.
As I approached, I noticed that a crowd had gathered around a particular book display.
Ah, I sighed, that’s exactly the distraction I need to get my mind out of this golf funk that I’m in: a nice novel to read on the plane!
I maneuvered my way over to the display. What book could possibly be so popular?
And then the title came into view. No way! Are you kidding me!
Sure enough, the one subject I no longer wanted to read about—the one symbol I never wanted to see again—was right there staring me in the face. The cover depicted a golf ball flying over the fairway, as giddy and happy as a golf ball could be. The book was The Legend of Bagger Vance, by Steven Pressfield.
I quit, I cried. Remember!
As I started to look away, the six-word subtitle caught my attention: Golf and the Game of Life.
I quickly looked around to make sure none of my golf school buddies were watching, and I grabbed the book. I was surprised by how comfortable it felt in my hands. And it had that new book smell too. Even the cover was enticing, so I opened it up to a random page.
Call it coincidence or the Universe’s way of communicating to me, but what I read challenged my view of life. And it also challenged my perspective on golf.
For those of you not familiar with the story, Bagger Vance is a caddy who mysteriously comes into the life of a struggling golfer and ends up helping him not only turn his game around—but also his life. Here’s the excerpt that I read that day in the Phoenix airport, with Bagger Vance narrating:
“I believe that each of us possesses, inside ourselves, one true Authentic Swing that is ours alone. It is folly to try to teach us another, or mold us to some ideal version of the perfect swing. Each player possesses only that one swing that he was born with, that swing which existed within him before he ever picked up a club. Our task as golfers is simply to chip away all that is inauthentic, allowing our Authentic Swing to emerge in its purity.”
I felt as though the golf ball on the cover hit me in the head! I was dazed by the powerful message and its many implications.
I’ve been going at it all wrong! I realized. Instead of changing my swing, I need to find it. I need to go all the way back before my first golf lesson and embrace my natural swing—the swing I started with—instead of trying to imitate all the many versions that have been imposed on me over the years.
It suddenly was clear; I had been looking for answers in all the wrong places. I was defining myself—and my swing—by external measures instead of trusting my own internal instincts and desires. And what’s worse, I had lost myself in the process.
I smiled. And to think, all of this from a few sentences in a book!
But it’s true. I had somehow lost my Authentic Swing and maybe even my Authentic Self, by allowing others to define who I was and who I needed to be. You might say I was experiencing an identity crisis on multiple levels.
In the end, I came to realize that releasing all the opinions, standards, and judgments of others, including my own, led me to a much more simplified perspective on life. And it led to a more natural golf swing.
So, I tossed out the “how-to” cards, went back to my old clubs, and I stopped keeping score when I played. And guess what? It worked. I started having fun again. That childlike exhilaration that drew me to golf in the first place reappeared. I began noticing the little things like the squishiness of the grass under my shoes as I walked down the fairway; the ping of a club hitting the ball perfectly off the tee, and the sound of the battery-powered beer cart driving up in just the nick of time. You get the idea.
But has my golf game improved, you ask?
Not at all. But it doesn’t matter anymore, I’m having fun again.
*From Geese’s latest book, It’s All About Me: Stories and Insights from the Geese, by Greg Giesen.