One of the things I’ve noticed about some Tour players is their quickness to anger when they hit a bad shot…a marginal shot…a shot that winds up in a divot…a putt that catches a spike mark…a putt that lips out…in short, a myriad of things that in their minds shouldn’t be happening. Mind you, almost all of them behave very “professionally.” But there are still the outliers. (And I find it so amusing that as I write this, dictionary.com has three features flashing on their landing page and one of them is about Neanderthals.)
Even when there’s not a lot of overt anger in their reactions, there’s the drama. There are the rolled eyes, the turning away in martyrdom, the distain and contempt, the “can you believe that?” exchange of looks with their caddies.
Now these guys (and ladies) are the best in the world at what they do. So you would think that by now, they would have come to the understanding that while what may be happening in the moment is something they don’t want to have happen, it’s what is happening. And no one is exempt from the immutable laws of things happening.
We all know that there is no rhyme nor reason to these things. S*** happens. Bad things happen to good people. Que sera sera (Whatever will be will be). Or as the late John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” But that doesn’t make them any less potentially upsetting when they happen. For some reason, most of us start out wired that way.
Why? I don’t know. Maybe it goes all the way back to the upsets that made us cranky as babies. Since most of us grow out of those kinds of howling protestations, maybe all the subsequent stuff is just more of the same; life’s lessons in acceptance.
There is first the realization that something is “out,” not right. And then the assessment that whatever it is, it’s wrong and shouldn’t be happening. And then the righteous indignation that if it was going to happen, it shouldn’t be happening to us! And then the anger that flows from that. And then the contemptuousness somewhere in there. And then the reluctant reconciliation with whatever it is. And then it’s over. Back to equilibrium until the next thing is out of our expectations for how things ought to be.
Now to be sure, I’m not picking on the hot headed Tour players. We’ve all been witness to their mercurial behavior. I’m merely using them as an example that reflects the broader human condition; namely, us. Because how you do anything is how you do everything.
Now there are some of them that intentionally allow themselves to get angry; they think it focuses them. I interviewed one LPGA Tour player who believes that works for her. But even she has pulled back over time. Perhaps it’s behavior they’ve seen modeled elsewhere in their lives as some sort of marker for responsibility: “If you can’t get fired up about that, then maybe you just don’t care.” Or perhaps their commitment to the cause, “Where’s your passion?”
But from what I know about the calming physiological manifestations of being completely invested in the present, it is hard to imagine that anger or a sense of injustice has any place in the playing of a physical game. It snatches bits and pieces of your awareness away and makes what you’re trying to do less clear, more difficult.
All this came up for me personally in the last month. Six weeks ago, my wife was bitten on the shin by friends’ cat in playful moment. Three mornings later I was rushing her to the ER because she couldn’t walk. They hooked her up to IV antibiotics and the docs made a small incision and flushed the wound thoroughly. They said to come back in two days for follow-up.
Over the ensuing days, my wife restricted to the couch with her leg elevated, the wound began to look better and better. But three days after she came off a two-and-a-half-week course of antibiotics, the whole thing headed south and she ended up in the hospital for surgery and nine days. And will need another surgery in three weeks to close the wound. The rest of the intervening details are of little interest, but you can imagine.
None of this should have been happening. But it’s what was happening. And so, I used all of my experience as a professional golfer and a student of mastery to wend my way through it.
Just like on the golf course: accept it, deal with it, move on. All the rest is just flotsam and jetsam of the moment that takes us out of the moment and our ability to deal calmly with whatever it is and to get beyond it.
What a great game.