The Least Useful Sport

I feel embarrassed to admit that, yes, I played golf this weekend, and that I had my best golf outing ever.  But I’ll get back to that…

If one considers that all sports are abstractions of primal survival skills, of something that was once actually useful, then golf is the most abstract of all sports, and therefore the least useful.

Though, the other side of the coin is that, as the most abstract it is also the most nuanced, the least physically demanding, but the most mentally demanding. Focus is of course required to play all sports well, but the level of concentration necessary to play golf well is legendary.

Golf is a practice of mindfulness, of one-pointed concentration.

If one is not fully present in the moment of the swing, the results are inevitably terrible. In particular, the admonition of “not raising one’s head” as one hits the ball is of paramount importance.     If one raises their head it means that one has left present moment awareness and their focus has shifted to the future, anticipating the majestic flight the ball will be taking, looking up to soon to see where the ball is going.  But by raising one’s head one will “top the ball”, hitting only the top of it with one’s club, the result being that it will dribble pathetically down the fairway. One’s loss of the one-pointed focus and prematurely looking into the glorious future will render that future grandly disappointing.

Golf is a practice of surrendering to the wisdom of the body.

Once one has a feel for the golf swing, one must surrender to the body memory, to trust that the body knows what to do, to trust that it knows how to flow through the swing and not try to micro-manage its every movement. This surrender to the wisdom of the body frees the mind to focus upon the ball.  In the moment of the swing, one’s entire world must be the small white orb that awaits it trajectory.

Golf is a practice of focusing upon the positive and not the negative.

If one lingers upon the poor swings, one’s mood declines, and then one’s focus, and the game worsens even more. Mood and game descend into a parallel downward spiral.  It becomes a miserable experience.  If one focuses on the good hits, one is elated  and is primed to focus well to produce another pleasing result.

Golf is a game of nuance.

I likely would not golf at all, but that beloved members of my family love the game, and so I enjoy playing with them a couple of times a year.   There are nuances to the grip and the stance and the swing that have always eluded me.  Somehow, through all the sporadic playing I’ve done over the years,  my mind was able to knit these subtleties together into a consistent whole and the results were striking.  Even beautiful.   Though these nuances only crystalized about every-other swing, so my score still sucked.  But it was a wonderful experience.

There is a magic in the flight of a well-hit ball.  I wrote this “haiku” for golf many years ago:

A well hit drive
the flight of the ball traces
the arc of my ambition



14 thoughts on “The Least Useful Sport

  1. A fascinating take on one of the most boring sports I know. Golf and baseball stand as my two least favorite sports. However, I appreciate your point of view and confess it explains a LOT about WHY some of very smart friends play that dreadful game. That said, those same very smart friends are equally puzzled by my adoration of Curling, which I see here has similar traits as golf – intense concentration, slight movements mean catastrophic (embarrassing) results. commentators whisper during broadcasts. I’ve never tried curling because 1) I live in the south and 2) I doubt I could stand back up after those deep knee bend movements and/or 3) if I tried I might be hospitalized. 🙂 Fascinating post – I cannot see you on a golf course, but I’m trying!

  2. I learned to play the game so that my husband and I would have something to do together and he would have a little work/life balance. I use my meditation practice on every round! Of course I need to work on my patience with myself and others. I also think about my community of other golfers and the people who put so much effort into a manicured course. I love being out in nature, with friends, and single pointedly focusing on various virtuous objects…many times I write the word “compassion” on my ball. It reminds me of the people tripping out and cussing around me are teachers to me. It has been great for my family and brings many people together. I really like the fact that all the pro tour events and many local events I play in benefit so many charities!!!! What other professional sport does that?
    I belong to a very old country club in what is now the “bad section” of town. I used to feel guilty about going over there to play until the golf pro remined me what that community would be like without all the revenue and jobs that pour into the area for the golf course. Something to think about. 🙂

    • Awesome comments! Thank you! I should write something on my golf balls for my own reminders. Perhaps “Shanti” would be appropriate.

  3. Excellent post! While I am not a golfer, mindful movement in general is close to my heart. I actually teach mindful movement through the Pilates method. It absolutely thrills me to assist while my students discover among other things, the many connections with the way they literally move through the world in their human bodies and the way they navigate this journey emotionally and spiritually. I find that the quality and energy of many a persons emotional default comes to resemble their posture, their gait as well as the intention or lack of intention in their movement. As within, so without.

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that the reason I am useless at certain activities is because the point of contact in some is too far away from my hands. I need to feel the ball in my hand so would risk netball, basketball, etc. But anything that requires holding an implement and attempting a strike would be anathema to me. Bang goes golf, hockey, pool, etc. It’s just my pet theory but it kind of makes sense to me that all the things I like doing, reading, writing, crafts, chess, etc are all hands on. And swimming. I like that. Now I wonder whether my choice of activities would fit the adaptation of survival theory. I suppose they might. But maybe just a well I’m not depending on them for it. 🙂

    • Which discourse of hers? – I must read it! Oh, never mind. I didn’t realize this was a comment on my golf post! Sorry. Yes, I agree, the juxtaposition of the two post is quite entertaining!

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