In all my years of golf, I’ve heard all sorts of tips designed to help me improve. While I can definitely hold my own on the course, I know I’m far from even being close to becoming a scratch golfer. My main problem is my short game; I need more practice on and around the green, and probably some lessons too.

My dad, aka my biggest golf teacher, knows this about my game. He tells me to “pay attention on the green” and lovingly reminds me, “if you could just putt, you’d be a decent golfer.” Thanks, Dad . . . I’ve heard this and other advice so much that I have a permanent recording of his voice in my head, telling me what to do in all sorts of situations on the course.

However, the golf lessons I remember the most are actually life lessons in disguise, with nothing (yet everything) to do with becoming a better golfer. These lessons are subtle reminders of how to be a better human, which I think intrinsically make us better golfers, no matter what our scores happen to be.

Lesson One: Keep your head down.

At the tee, on the fairway, chipping, on the green . . .  I’ve heard to “keep your head down” a thousand times. My dad inevitably follows this up with, “What are you looking up at? Your only focus should be on the ball.”  In today’s digital, fast-paced world, how often do we fail to even consider this advice? We’re looking at one thing, and before that content even sinks in, we’re clicking onto the next. Everything we do is sporadic, done in fits and bursts, with little focused attention. We could all benefit by homing in on one activity and seeing what happens.


Lesson Two: Slow down.

Much like lesson one, I heard to slow down and take my time a lot as I was learning to golf, and still get this advice today. When golfing, I tend to worry about speed of play and therefore sometimes quickly hit a shot that I should have concentrated on a bit more. My dad always questions this. “Why are you rushing?” he’d say. “You have all the time in the world. Relax. Then hit it.”  Translation: how are you going to do any quality work when frenzied and careless? This is true in golf, and it’s awfully true for almost anything we do. Slow and steady wins the race. I’m not promoting slow play, of course, simply suggesting that you slow down when it counts and move efficiently at other times.

Lesson Three: Encourage others.

This lesson was masterfully taught by example. My dad blended tough love, reality based golf lessons  with solid encouragement.  I always knew he was my biggest fan, and that encouragement kept me coming back. I also saw him encourage others and show genuine happiness when the people he was playing with had great shots.  This kind of support for our fellow golfers and fellow humans is something to practice every single day.

Lesson Four: Persistence pays off.

My dad took me to the driving range several times a week when I was a kid.  This was after he worked all day, and often took night calls as a small town physician.  He always made time to work with me and remind me that I would get better with practice. I saw that work pay off as I gradually mastered my driver and woods, and improved on my irons (though I’m still working on those, if we’re being honest). Bottom line, I believe he had an ulterior motive in those practice sessions. Yes, he wanted me to become a better golfer. But, what he was really teaching me was that everything in life takes work; we just need to put the time and energy into things to see results.

Lesson Five: Golf isn’t really about golf.

During all of the rounds I played with my dad, we each had good and bad shots.  These made the game enjoyable and frustrating, as did the circumstances that accompanied each round.  By that I mean things like bad weather, hunger, injury, everyday worries . . . all those things had a way of creeping into the rounds.

Regardless of how the round went, my dad always made it a point at the end to thank me for playing with him, tell me he enjoyed it, and that I did a great job. If we were playing with others, he’d say the same to them.

What a great practice this would be to take to our lives off the course, no? What if we said something similar at the end of meetings, gatherings, and taught our kids to do so in sporting events? Letting people know you enjoyed your time with them, thanking them for their time, and offering up a bit of positive encouragement . . . isn’t that what it’s all about?

Just like yoga is said to be an ever-evolving practice we pursue for a lifetime the same goes for golf. There are so many elements to the game that it often takes a lifetime to get them all to come together at once. And then, when we think we’ve mastered it all, problems still crop up; on any given round we can have issues with our drives, fairway shots, chips, or shots around the green. Getting past our shortcomings and focusing on the core essence of the game can help us appreciate the sport and the people we play with, making for more enjoyable rounds and great memories.

As I look back, it wasn’t really about golf. For my dad and me, golf just happened to be the vehicle for sharing time together. Learning the game and becoming better? Just icing on the cake. And anyway, my short game still stinks. But I’m okay with that because it’s the long game that really counts.