I’ve never been so happy to shoot a 104 as I was on October 14, 2018.
Sure, it put me amongst the last of the last on the first day of the LPGA Amateur Championship Finals. But I got through my first-ever day of national stroke-play competition—an activity I find moderately terrifying—without throwing up or otherwise embarrassing myself.
So that’s me, happy at the back of the pack. Why do I bother to compete, when I don’t come anywhere near a win? Because I focus on my own micro-competition rather than the actual competition.
Can I make some pars on a tricky course?
Can I shoot a lower score on the second day?
Can I manage not to come in dead last?
Success just like in most of life, is having the guts just to show up. The rest is figuring out your goal—your personal par, literally or figuratively—and trying to win your own game rather than a medal.
For most of us, individual competition can be tough to love. There’s usually no team or support system out with you, and there’s plenty of raw anxiety.
Yet there’s also a surprising amount of camaraderie. Amateur competition, I’ve learned, is as much about the communal experience as individual achievement. Sure, people will think more of you if you win, but they won’t think less of you if you lose.
We’re a bunch of competent, knowledgeable, often-frustrated golfers. That’s the basis for rapidly-formed companionship, which sincerely applauds the great shots others make because we know what treasured rarities they are.
A golf tournament may be less demanding physically than other sports, but golf offers many more opportunities for humiliation.
If you screw up in a race, it’s usually because you got injured (which I’ve done) and everyone goes, “Aw, you okay?”
Golf contains myriad possibilities for screwups by a perfectly healthy person, such as scoring 14 on a par 5 because every other shot, from tee to green, lands in the water.
“Embrace your fears and drown them in kindness,” say Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision 54. I’m not so sure I want to hug that spiky ball of dendrites, but I take their point about working with a nervous edge.
Besides, there’s always the possibility you’ll move toward the front of the pack. I’m not guaranteeing a direct payback—I’ve lived too long and played too much golf to believe that fantasy—but from time to time, the more you do something the better you get at it. Or at least you get used to the nerves.
In my second round at the LPGA Amateur Championship Finals, I relaxed and found the right degree of caring: somewhere between not much, and not at all. I shot a 94 and finished fifth low gross in the flight.
You can’t win if you don’t play. And sometimes playing for your own “win” can feel just as rewarding.