Non-Attachment in Golf

A couple of weeks ago I played in a competition at my club. It wasn’t the best of days, score-wise. As I joked with my wife when I came home, there were only three things wrong with my game – how I was off the tee, how I was on the greens, and the shots in-between! OK, so it wasn’t that bad, but you know how it is.

From time to time we all have rounds where things don’t quite go as well as we had hoped. That’s a guarantee with golf. But as a wiser man than me once said, ”It’s not what happens that’s important, but how you deal with it”.

non-attachment in golf

This was illustrated for me by one of my playing partners on the day. A young guy in his early 20s who beforehand told me he had been out three times earlier in the week to get into the groove for this competition. He was confident.

He shot bogey on the first hole (as did three of our foursome, including me), and from his body language I began to notice that even this early his Plan A was beginning to fall apart. I was about to find out there wasn’t a plan B.

Off the second tee he hooked out-of-bounds. The driver received a good thumping off the ground, and he shouted and cursed at himself. His next tee shot (now playing 3) went the same way, but amazingly hit a fence post and came back onto the middle of the fairway!

He played the rest of the hole with a sense of desperation, seemingly piling more and more pressure on himself with each shot. Even his good shots weren’t good enough (although I would have killed for them). It was becoming clear that all of the expectation he had brought to the day was weighing him down, and he appeared unable to get it off his back. It was painful to witness, especially as we’ve all been there and know how bad that feels -to be lost in a whirlpool in your own mind.

His body language was that of a broken man, and the energy he gave off was a mixture of frustration and self-loathing, manifesting as a silent “don’t f*@%ing talk to me” vibe. So I kept the chat with him to a minimum.

On the fourth green he picked his ball up from the green and walked on to the next tee. So, that was it, game over.

I myself wasn’t scoring at my best, (having taken an 8 at the 2nd) but I was enjoying the day. The sun was shining (we’re in Scotland in April so that is reason to be happy on its own!), the other two guys I had been paired with were good company, and I was playing golf. Of all the things I could have been doing there was nothing else I would have wanted to do in that precise moment.

Once we got to the turn the young guy walked back to the clubhouse, we re-arranged score-cards, and the final 9 was great fun, without the sulk walking alongside us. The golf didn’t get any better, but it was a great morning.

For me it was a real example of how the mind can ruin our pleasure of life. That young man spoiled what could have been a great round by being caught in his mind and self-judgements. He is a good golfer, he apparently hits it well, but for all of his skill his lack of mental game strength let him down.

Expectation causes pain. Well, let me clarify that – attachment to expectation causes pain. It’s our need for things to be a certain way that means our happiness, peace, or whatever we have invested in the desired outcome, is a hostage to fortune. As soon as things change (as they inevitably will) we are lost, as long as we are dependant on them.

The key is to practise non-attachment. This is not new advice – it is one of the fundamentals of most spiritual traditions. How to do it? Well, it’s surprisingly easy to do with sufficient commitment and the right tools. For me, that means regularly practising meditation every day. The result? I give it my best, and accept what is.

It is a path that is characterised by contentment and compassion. Once you take a step on this path, there really is no other road to travel on. It makes a bad golf day, good, and a good golf day, great. And the best thing is that it also works in every other area of our lives.

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