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Golf — Memories and Mindfulness

A Trip to Nostalgia Every Now and Then is Good for the Spirit


"We didn't realize we were making memories we just knew we were having fun"

— Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

While struggling with jitters on a pernicious putting green one afternoon, I recalled a moment from childhood—practicing chipping in the backyard with my grandfather—feeling a sudden sense of solace. As an anxious academic whose mind is rarely at rest, I find comfort in peaceful memories from the past. Journeying to this placid place helps to calm my nerves, make still my mind, and move naturally through the swing or stroke. My golf reaches its pinnacle when I do not fret over the future but rather enter the zone of a present moment.

Young boy practising chipping a golf ball onto the Green
Young child chipping onto the Green

It may seem counterintuitive, but peaceful reflection on the past deepens my appreciation for the present and results in greater golf. Legendary jazz musician, Kenny Werner writes about entering the musical space, a place where artists connect to a universal force greater than themselves because they let go of attachment to end results. In Becoming The Instrument: Lessons on Self-Mastery from Music to Life, Werner compares the process of moving into this musical zone to swinging smoothly through a golf shot. Not fretting over the final product improves the process; as my father, a former basketball coach and expert martial artist likes to say, “the winning takes care of itself.”

Kenny Werner sitting at the piano
Jazz Pianist Kenny Werner (credit: Antonio Porcar)

I happen to enter this zone, or get into the groove of a golfing moment, through the act of remembering pleasant pieces of my past.

Defined as a “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past,” nostalgia often implies a desire to escape the present; hence, the word “wistful.” Yet, I think it is possible to long for the past while reveling in the present; golf is my vehicle for achieving this balance.

Nostalgia has become somewhat synonymous with baseball in American culture and lore; think of vast open fields, the innocence of youth, going to the ball game with grandpa. How about golf, though? Surely, many of us yearn to return to the comforts of childhood on the range. We did not overthink, but rather swung smoothly through each shot and made beautiful contact with the ball. Even if we didn’t, golf felt so fabulous and freeing back then.

I learned the joys of this game on Southern California’s arid courses where I had the privilege to play with my beloved grandparents. To them, everything I did was stupendous, even the wayward drives and erroneous irons. Every time I swung a club on the driving range, my grandfather would repeat “stay there,” so I got used to a fine fluid motion. This expression and others, like “walk up from behind the ball,” stay with me forever without clogging my concentration or overwhelming the brain with technical data. Indeed, I have internalized my grandparents’ wisdom and plan to pass it along to my seven-month-old daughter someday.


A Girl swing a golf club at the Driving Range
Hours practicing on the Driving Range are often a common source of memories for young players

Why do moments and memories from childhood put an anxious mind like mine at rest? Blessed to be born into a loving family, I was fortunate never to experience severe trauma. Although I fell ill as a young girl, the resolute dedication and devotion of parents and grandparents made youth a pleasant phase of life to experience. And golf with loved ones (heck, even driving the cart with my grandfather) brightened my days.

“So, what became of that pernicious putt?” you may ask. Well, I may or may not have sunk it, and honestly cannot recall the score from my round, but an overwhelming sense of calm enveloped my body that day and I felt my grandparents guiding me through each step of the way.


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