Five Life Lessons We Learn From Golf

Story by Ian Guerin

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | My 4-year-old son took a break from singing his favorite Justin Timberlake song in the car to ask if he could go play golf with me. My heart swelled at the thought of passing on my love of the links to him. And then it dropped. What if he can’t handle the frequent frustration of the game? What if he immediately finds out how bad I am and decides he doesn’t need any of my advice? What if he gets sun burned?

Fathers have been dealing with these questions for ages. OK, maybe not all of those questions. But if my Scottish ancestors were anything like me, they probably felt the urge to chunk a wedge into a pond after an errant shot. I’d also like to believe they developed with the game. The lessons golf teaches us aren’t just about club selection and tight lies. Golf and life intersect time and again, and if we listen to those lessons, we can learn something about ourselves, too. My son, well, one day he’ll get to hear all about this. I’ll even try to remember the sun block.


Emotion is our friend. But it can also be our enemy, getting the best of us whether anyone is watching or not. It goes both ways on the course (See: A fantastic putt; See, also: Aforementioned reference to chunking a club into a pond). This isn’t simply about colorful language directed at your ball. From one shot to the next, the peaks and valleys of golf are a microcosm of our daily lives. Nothing is going to be flow perfectly forever, nor will it stink something fierce for all of eternity. Either way, the respect you can earn from those around you can skyrocket with the right amount of moderation for your elation or grief.


We all clamor for the next cool gadget or club. The tools of the golf trade are nifty, and from a spiffy new driver to the laser-guided range finder to the ball that promises an extra 20-30 yards on your drive, all of it should be taken with a grain of salt. That’s because for all the cool stuff you can add to your arsenal, golf has been and will always be a game that relies on the human element more than anything else. Show me a weekend duffer with a fantastic new putter and I can probably find you a better finisher who walks to the dance floor a busted up, 15-year-old flatstick. The short of it is this: No matter how much money you dump into finding a solution to a problem, if you’re not willing to work for better results, your long-term improvement is likely going to be minimized.


Growing your game is more than simple repetition. Think of the guy who plays the same course four times a week, busting through his 18 holes on cruise control. Now take him 10 minutes up the road and his score balloons as his confidence shrinks. Variety isn’t simply about broadening your horizons; it is also about learning how to fail and adjust accordingly. Changing your approach to different situations, even simply recognizing the need for change (when necessary) can help you roll with any terrain. Some of the most successful business leaders of our time have taken this route and etched their names into the fabric of our society while turning the special into the spectacular.


There’s a brilliant section of Joe Posnanski’s book “The Secret of Golf” that speaks to the mistakes players often make after a bad shot. Essentially, Posnanski describes how those who pop one into trouble spots can’t swallow their pride enough to simply chip out and move on to the next shot. Bravado then leads to double and triple bogeys, often at the worse time. Take your job, your marriage, heck, even a wrong turn on the way to your kid’s t-ball practice, for instance. You can either compound your problems and make them worse, or you can recognize the sound correction and start to get back on the right track.


A buddy and I hit the course together in late Spring, and among our conversations was one he brought up about how much he enjoyed getting paired up with strangers. I started to think about it, and of the few hundred times I’ve played in the last decade, I’d estimate that roughly 75-80 percent of them were rounds that started with first-time introductions. I’ve met professionals and retirees, wealthy and poor, women and men of all races. We talked about how we ended up on that course that day and why we enjoyed the game. I’ve used many of those chats to lead into reviews or comb for future stories. In the news world, they call that the marketplace of ideas. It makes journalists richer for the experience. Getting out of your own comfort zone and meeting others completely different from your norm can have the same effect on you as a person, too.

Ian Guerin is a DJ and freelance writer based in Myrtle Beach. You can follow him on Twitter @iguerin and Facebook