Scratching surface of a golfer’s psyche
Most people don’t realize how mentally grueling it can be to be a scratch golfer. Most people think scores in the low 70s just glide off scratch golfers’ clubs without a drop of effort or consternation. These people are forgetting about the “comfort zone.” A golfer’s comfort zone is the range of score that he feels fairly reflects his game. For some golfers, it may be a score from 90 to 100. For others, it could be anything below 80.For a true scratch golfer, the comfort zone stands somewhere between three under and four over par. Here are two illustrative examples.Last Thursday, a scratch golfer in my group was going tidily along at 1 under par through eight holes. He was loose, confident, completely within his comfort zone. Then, unexpectedly, he made long putts on 9 and 10. Suddenly, he’s three under. His approach shot on 12 landed 8 feet from the cup.The transition out of the comfort zone was palpable. His face tightened, his pace quickened, and a jabby stroke left his putt almost a foot short. He went on to bogey three of the finishing holes to post an even par round.Two days later, I played in a tournament qualifier at the Aspen Golf Club. Through the first nine holes, I was playing poorly, but not irreparably so, making the turn at four over par. On 10, however, I missed a 3-footer, moving me to five over – out of the comfort zone. I played the next three holes in five over par, becoming increasingly panicked before limping home with an 82.These two examples represent opposite ends of the same spectrum. At three under par, my playing partner probably started thinking about how nice a 67 would look on the card, and the respect it would give him in the clubhouse. At five over par, I started worrying about the embarrassment of posting a number above 75.The problem is, golf is a social game. So for golfers, especially scratch golfers, there’s an unavoidable if equally irrational feeling that somehow your score reflects your value as a person, that people won’t like you if your game’s awful, but love you if it’s awesome.I showed up at the golf course the day after my 82, and the staff and regulars at Aspen Golf Course greeted me with a smile, as they always do. It would have been the same if I had shot 68, but it’s tough to remember that on your way to shooting 82.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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