Most of the best laughs I’ve had over the past 15 months have been on the golf course. I suppose we’ve been in several lockdowns and we’ve faced restriction after restriction, so I haven’t been in too many social settings, but usually I thoroughly enjoy my golf. It’s not that I’m a great golfer, because I most certainly am not, but I enjoy chatting to my friends, when I get the chance to play with them, and with other members on my way around the course. If our golf isn’t going well, usually one of us says “At least this isn’t our day job” or something along those lines, or when someone starts to get frustrated another golfer will say, “But sure, it’s great to be out in the fresh air. So many people would love to be able to get out and hit a ball but they’re not able to.” Golf is not just about playing well. Yes, there’s nothing to beat the feeling you get when your drives fly long and straight and all of your putts drop, but the vast majority of my rounds are not like that, so there’s nothing to gain in becoming frustrated or cross when things aren’t going well.
A friend sent me a link to this letter, which I think you’ll enjoy. The letter is an unattributed excerpt from Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred and Pete Shoemaker.
Dear Younger Me,
I can’t play anymore. I tried to swing the club the other day but my body wouldn’t cooperate. The best I can do now is sometimes take walks on the course, but my eyes aren’t as good as they user to be so I don’t see much. I have a lot of time to sit and think now, and I often think about the game.
It was my favourite game. I played most of my adult life. Thousands of rounds, thousands of hours practising. As I look back, I guess I had a pretty good time at it. But now that I can’t do it anymore, I wish I’d done if differently.
It’s funny, but with all the time I spent playing golf, I never thought that I was a real golfer, I never felt that I was good enough to really belong out there. It doesn’t make much sense, since I scored better than average and a lot of people envied my game, but I always felt that if I was just a little better or a little more consistent then I’d really feel good. I’d be satisfied with my game. But I never was. It was always “one of these days I’ll get it” or “one day I’ll get there” and now here I am. I can’t play anymore, and I never got there.
I met a whole lot of different people out on the course. That was one of the best things about the game. But aside from my regular partners and a few others, I don’t feel like I got to know many of those people very well. I know they didn’t really get to know me. At times they probably didn’t want to. I was pretty occupied with my own game most of the time and didn’t have much time for anyone else, especially if I wasn’t playing well.
So why am I writing you this letter anyway, just to complain? Not really. Like I said, my golfing experience wasn’t that bad. But it could have been so much better, and I see that so clearly now. I want to tell you, so you can learn from it. I don’t want you getting to my age and feeling the same regrets I’m feeling now.
I wish, I wish. Sad words, I suppose, but necessary. I wish I could have played the game with more joy, more freedom. I was always so concerned with “doing it right” that I never seemed to be able to just enjoy doing it at all. I was so hard on myself, never satisfied, always expecting more. Who was I trying to please? Certainly not myself, because I never did. If there were people whose opinions were important enough to justify all that self-criticism, I never met them.
I wish I could have been a better playing partner. I wasn’t a bad person to be with, really, but I wish I had been friendlier and gotten to know people better. I wish I could have laughed and joked more, and given people more encouragement. I probably would have gotten more from them, and I would have loved that. There were a few bad apples over the years, but most of the people I played with were friendly, polite and sincere. They really just wanted to make friends and have a good time. I wish I could have made more friends and had a better time.
I’m inside a lot now, and I miss the beauty of the outdoors. For years when I was golfing I walked through some of the most beautiful places on earth, and yet I don’t feel as if I really saw them. Beautiful landscapes, trees, flowers, animals, the sky, the ocean—how could I have missed so much? What else was I thinking of that was so important—my grip, my backswing, my stance? Sure, I needed to think about those sometimes, but so often as to be oblivious to so much beauty? And all the green—the wonderful, deep, lush colour of green! My eyes are starting to fail. I wish I had used them better so I would have more vivid memories now.
So what is it that I’m trying to say? I played the type of game that I thought I should play, to please the type of people that I thought I should please. But it didn’t work. My game was mine to play, but I gave it away. It’s a wonderful game. Please, don’t lose yours. Play a game that you want to play. Play a game that gives you joy and satisfaction and makes you a better person to your family and friends. Play with enthusiasm, play with freedom. Appreciate the beauty of nature and the people around you. Realize how lucky you are to be able to do it. All too soon your time will be up, and you won’t be able to play anymore. Play a game that enriches your life.
That’s all I have to say. I don’t really know just how this letter will get to you, but I hope that it reaches you in time. Take care.