The fourth hole at the little golf club I belong to in Chestertown is a par three over water. It’s not a long carry, but no short shot survives; misjudge the wind, under club, or hit it fat and you are doomed. You can make a mistake long…but never short. Yet another life lesson on the links: take an extra club; if you’re long, you’re still in the game. Hit it short and you’re wet…and dead.
I’ve hit it short a few times: a bonehead mistake in high school that haunts me to this day; a failed first marriage; a job that was so wrong that I was fired within a year (or would have been if I hadn’t quit). But I’ll say this for myself: I learn my lessons. Now, I always choose a longer club. I might not hit the green every time, but if I err, it’s not because I’ve underestimated the wind or all the water that lies between me and the green. I’ve just failed to execute. Strangely, I can live with that.
In today’s analytical world, the problem often lies in some perceived misconstruing of data—at least that’s where we aim to place the blame. We rarely accept responsibility for our faults and as a result, lessons that might be learned go their carefree way. Far better to be accountable: that way, lessons can be learned, errors can be corrected, obstacles can be overcome.
When I struggle on the golf course, I go to the range or the practice area or if I’m really wise, I seek help from the club pro. He’s a perceptive and unassuming young man who teaches or corrects with a gentle hand. But change never comes easily. I’ve learned that after a lesson, my game doesn’t improve overnight. It takes time to incorporate a new skill or to “unlearn” a bad habit. There’s even a lesson in that, too: I don’t expect miracles or immediate results. I’ve learned that progress takes two things: sweat and time.
Now I’m not suggesting that golf is all about struggle or overcoming obstacles. On number four, for example, the sound of a ball landing softly on the green instead of splashing in the pond is something to savor, a moment of pure auditory bliss. The same is true about life. Many sages—Nietzsche, Frederick Douglass, Pope Paul VI, and Oprah Winfrey, to name just a few—have encouraged us to find beauty in the struggle or that without it, there can be no progress. I don’t disagree, but sometimes I believe progress can be evolutionary, not revolutionary. We only have to let progress happen, to let it unfold like a blossom in spring. The Eagles reminded us to “Take it Easy” while Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of our time, put it this way: “Don’t struggle so much. The best things happen when not expected.”
So: back to the tee on number four. It’s a beautiful day, the course is practically empty, the breeze is gentle. It’s early in the round but I’m with my friends and my swing feels fluid and easy. The pin is forward. I select a 7 iron and settle in over the ball. Everything is as it should be. I take the club away in a long, graceful arc; a breath of a rest at the top; a descending blow…
What sound did you just hear?
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”