I was 15 when I purchased my first setof golf clubs. There they were, unceremoniously propped against the range ball machine at our neighborhood par-3 course; a bulky black bag containing a used set of 3 through 9 irons, several “Tommie Bolt” woods and a non-descript putter. A sign taped to it read “25 bucks”. I had no choice…Oh, the promise that was in that purchase. Jack Nicklaus was in his prime then. Someone would eventually have to take his place.
…Well, that was 40 years ago. I never took lessons. I was a good hitter in baseball and just thought I could do the same with a golf ball. Just swing lower. I mean, how hard could it be? The ball’s not moving and no one’s throwing it at you. My conviction seemed full of conventional wisdom. When I found it was not that easy, I swung harder. And when I practiced enough to make relatively consistent contact, I discovered my swing produced a horrifying slice that could scream over several fairways in a single voyage. I was informed, by other slicing golfers, that I could just “line up further to the right” and everything would be fine. Eventually I was lining up so far “to the right” that I was aiming at oncoming golfers, or the parking lot. On rare occasions I would hit where I aimed it and sent golfers screaming as my ball shattered off their carts or nearby trees. But I learned to manage that swing and could often manipulate it near enough to the fairway that I gained a deluded sense of expertise. But never could I hit the ball far the way much older or less athletic golfers could.
There were always those who offered help. But in my arrogance I refused, reasoning, “This round it’s all gonna come together for me. I don’t need someone messing with my swing out there on the course.” That particular epistemological mindset has reigned in me for 40 years. 40 years of scores consistently flirting with 100 and never getting below 85. 40 years of mediocre, frightening golf.
A month ago, a golf pro friend of mine said something that got through. He was polite, but his words carried the barely hidden pity of someone who had often played golf with me and just couldn’t take it anymore. He said, slowly, firmly and with a grim sense of finality, that I would never be able to hit the ball far or accurately with my present swing. This broke my heart, because I had just been given a new state-of-the-art driver and really believed that the final piece to my golfing success would be high tech, expensive equipment.
My friend told me that my stance and “outside in” swing were keeping me at cross-purposes with a true hit and at best I would always, only be able to strike the ball with a “glancing blow.” For some reason those words got through. No matter how hard I hit the ball, I would still be diffusing its power by a faulty swing, honed in uneducated arrogance. How many thousands of dollars in green fees had I spent for the permission to hit wild drives about 230 yards at best, on a downhill slope?
Sad story, huh? But be encouraged to know that I trusted my friend’s words. I am actually paying attention to mundane things like stance and swing path. I am even developing what golfers call a “swing thought”-one principle of golfing truth I focus on instead of slapping at the ball like a man hacking at winter wheat with a scythe.
…That same week I started thinking about all the years of joy and fulfillment I wasted with God-bluffing a relationship born out of my uneducated arrogance. I figured I could “just swing harder” or reposition myself to lessen the impact of a life that often frightened others and secretly caused them to pity me.
Dang! It took several good friends to tell me the truth. I was striving with full sincerity to gain God’s favor, blessing and love…And when it didn’t work I was just swinging harder. My conviction seemed full of conventional wisdom. But at best, I was not fulfilled and I was bluffing like I was. Everyone around me suffered. My friends had the courage to tell me that I would never enjoy this life I was preaching to others because the striving, self-effort I brought to everything I did was at complete counter-purposes with His desire to just love me and be trusted by me. I would always just be playing around a bad swing. Be encouraged that a decade or so ago I trusted their care for me and my new swing thought, every day, is this…”I will trust that I am not defined by the events of my past or my relative success or failure…I am defined by who He says I am. On my worst day, He smiles and says I am fully “Christ in Me.” Go figure. A man with a revamped golf swing and a revitalized life. If you don’t hear from me it’s because I left my day job and am out on the Senior Tour.
P.S. – Have any “golf swing” stories you’d like to share?