Interior design

Finally, after 40 years of trying to play golf, I feel like I’m getting close.

I get the sense that with good players, a good drive sets up a good approach shot and a reasonable chance for birdie. For me, a struggling mid-handicapper, a good drive is simply the occasion to start over again, though obviously from a more favorable position than, say, lost in the woods or ankle deep in rough.

But instead of being able to connect the dots to success in linear format, for me it’s more like setting up shop all over again. On good days, I’ll at least feel like there’s some coherent relationship among the ball, the club, my body and terra firma. On other days, when the tide is full and the wolves are howling, I can’t imagine being able to generate anything resembling a swing plane and my feet feel like they are on roiling ground.

It’s certainly not for lack of trying, or a lack of knowledge of the game. But sometimes I think – and here’s the psychologist in me coming to the “Fore!” – that all the work I’ve done researching, writing and traveling as a golf writer has been by way of frustration or compensation.

Who doesn’t want to be a good player? Having long ago given up hope of being great, I can, like other golfers, whether a 36-handicapper or a plus-3, harbor hopes of getting better. So I approach each shot as a chance to make a decent swing and reproduce the loveliest feel and sight in all of sports: getting the ball properly airborne and watching it butterfly to earth. There is something beautiful in starting from a stable platform and generating enough rotation, torque and strength to flight a ball to a distant target.

The first moment I saw a ball delivered that way – I was 9 years old, and had just stepped onto my first golf course to watch my first round – I fell in love with the game.

There are moments when I can still recapture that exact feeling. Sometimes, it’s when writing about golf. Other times, it’s when playing – when standing over a shot and then being able to create the ball flight I had envisioned.

The tough part for me is the disparity between what I know about the game and what I can do with that knowledge while playing. In the group chatter and private train of thought that accompanies any round, I’m aware of many things about the golf course, the grounds features, its architect, grasses, history and tournaments played there. That stuff sits lighter in the brain during a round than some people might think. I know some golfers who feel that “stuff” clutters their mind and gets in the way of focusing or enjoying their golf. Everyone’s mind works differently. Some have trouble shutting off the mental jet stream. Others are able to compartmentalize.

For me, the issue is less the Rolodex in my brain than the tempo and feel of my body. In Starbucks parlance, I’ve got the pace of three vente double-shot lattes in what really is a decaf game.

A big part of what I now try to do is simply slow myself down. On a golf course, everything happens at twice the speed that you’re prepared for. Range rats who perfect their game on the practice range and then wonder why they struggle during a round overlook the element of time and body tempo. They might be better off doing yoga or psychotherapy, or adopting a more balanced diet and sense of self.

As for knowing architecture, it only helps if you have some sense of what you’re doing with your swing and how you normally play. Good design is all about what happens when the ball hits the ground. It can’t substitute for understanding swing technique and the dynamics of your own body. But it can help you figure out where to play your next shot and what to expect if you’re lucky or skilled enough to pull it off.

If, at times, I’ve overcompensated on the design side, I’ve always done so with a tinge of sadness and regret that I wasn’t a good-enough player. But there are ways of staying in golf while being proficient and professional. Which is why, when asked my handicap, I’m tempted to say, “I’m a scratch writer.”

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