Lessons of the links

Striving for threescore and ten: How can 18 little shallow, round holes be so difficult to conquer?
Striving for threescore and ten: How can 18 little shallow, round holes be so difficult to conquer? (IStockphoto.com / ImagineGolf)
Posted: March 31, 2014

Another golf season, when we senior citizens emerge from our dens to forage for Titleists, has begun.

Last Friday, with the winter's accumulated snow having finally dissipated to the point where play was possible, the line at Bella Vista Golf Club's first tee was grayer than the skies and just as angry-looking.

Though the game, with its demands for power and flexibility, is ideally suited to the young and strong, it's the old and soon-to-be-infirm who remain its most ardent adherents. According to the National Golf Foundation, 83 percent of U.S. golfers are 40 or older. Sixty-one percent are over 50.

So what is it that attracts the aging so powerfully to the sport?

For one thing, it's a game we're still physically able to play. At our age, we're more likely to master an iPhone than survive pickup basketball or touch football.

It doesn't matter if our reflexes, strength, and coordination are shot. "Golf and sex," three-time Masters champ Jimmy Demaret once said, "are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at."

And, unlike those younger men and women still raising families, we have the kind of free time that's necessary for the four- and five-hour rounds the time-consuming sport demands. In my case, when our children were young, I went 15 years without ever picking up a club - an absence that explains a lot about the state of my game.

But beyond those factors, I've come to believe the elderly are drawn to golf for a more existential reason. By playing 18 holes of golf, we are, in a metaphoric way, reliving our lives. Think about it:

Green, peaceful, and laden with promise, every first tee is a new birth, an Eden. We begin each round with unbounded optimism, our outlooks as pristine as our scorecards. The world and our own human failings have yet to intrude. Anything is possible.

But by the time we've reached the end of a round, we're dirty, weary, often disillusioned, and wishing there was some way to alter the final score, to erase some of our journey's worst mistakes.

In between, there is ample joy and sorrow, plenty of upswings and downswings.

Charting our own course, we must traverse all sorts of hazards along the way. Though some can be deep and treacherous, the way out can be a blast. Our ultimate outcome often depends on how well we manage our ups and downs.

Sometimes the journey is straight and simple, a walk in the park. At other times, we get off course. On those latter occasions, if we find that the trouble is pretty deep, well, that's rough.

Along the way, we spend a lot of time looking for things we've lost. Those that we never recover can exact a steep penalty.

No matter how you slice it, it's impossible to envision where the inevitable bad bounces will land us. Trouble, after all, is par for the course.

Despite our best intentions, we're destined to pay a price when we fail to follow through. But whatever that price, we have to remember to maintain our stance and our grip.

Lies can lead to huge difficulties. The rules are unyielding. It's easy to stray out-of-bounds. Just keep your head down and travel the fairway, and everything will be OK.

There's no stigma in being on the fringe. But respect the flag.

Everything about the trip seems easier and far more enjoyable when we make it with friends. Sadly, usually after too many strokes, some companions will fade away. So don't allow any wedges to come between you.

Lessons are available for all who seek them. While they can be extremely helpful, they also are costly.

The better we are at reading, the more successful we're likely to be.

Each of us has a different address. All of us have unique handicaps that we can overcome with a good approach. It's rare to encounter an ace, but you'll come into contact with plenty of heels.

Weight shifts are going to happen throughout. Too thin isn't good. Neither is too fat. Timing is everything. It helps to have rhythm. And wild-swingers don't usually last as long as the upright and more-balanced.

There will be punches and knockdowns, but it's the recovery that counts. We should plan for success, but learn how to flop. If someone tells you you're good, just accept it.

Some of us manage to stay on our feet, while others rely on expensive drivers.

All of us will be buried at some point. And as the journey nears its conclusion, the challenges almost always get tougher.

Toward the end, when the sun is setting, it can be a race against time, a desperate attempt to accomplish what we must before the coming darkness.


ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz

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