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Staying the Course: Mulligans, Marriage, & Motherhood

Our featured contributor discusses Golf as a metaphor for life and some of the important life lessons learned.

 

A woman playing a shot from the sand
Woman playing a bunker shot

While battling a burdensome bunker on the ninth hole of our town’s municipal golf course, I felt my mind begin to meander. Rather than feel the smooth sensation of swinging through sand, I started to fixate on my post-golf plan for the day: spend time with my three-month-old baby girl; visit my niece and nephew; check in with my parents; begin this writing project; fold the laundry; pay bills; the list continues. My mind journeyed far away, and I lost what Timothy Gallwey calls “the inner game of golf.”

Some mental musings are natural in this game, which can take up to five hours of one’s day. Inevitably, distractions will enter our minds, but the key is not to allow burdensome thoughts to oppress us while we hit. Rather than stifle one’s swing, a tranquil way of thinking tends to translate into fluid motions and strong shots. Many sports psychologists speak of visualization techniques to get golfers in the zone; however, maintaining such a razor-sharp focus for eighteen holes can be a truly tall order!

Author John Updike
John Updike - author of "Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf"

What keeps us golfers so glued to this game? Perhaps iconic American author, John Updike most clearly captures golf’s appeal: it is a game of paradoxes in which “the harder [one tries], the worse [one plays].” Also, says Updike, “In no other sport are mental effort and concentration so immediately reflected in the mirror of physical action and its result” (323). In the wake of Covid-19, this sport has grown immensely in participation and popularity. Yet, it has long had a grip on so many, including me, who played passionately through the Pandemic and a pregnancy.

Throughout my countless hours on the links, I have learned valuable life lessons about persistence and perseverance in both marriage and motherhood.

  1. Have a Sense of Humor: My husband took up the game eight years ago, when he showed up in dress shoes to play a round during one of our early dates! He survived much embarrassment, numerous balls in the trees, and multiple rule violations while playing with experienced golfers. A Division I runner in college, Bill underestimated its difficulty, but has now begun shooting in the low nineties! Despite my frustrations with his stubborn insistence that he learn the game himself, my husband persevered through a difficult learning curve by laughing; this light-hearted attitude has made our journey through this sport so much more pleasant than it could have been.

  2. Take Mulligans: A dear friend advised us the other day to take mulligans not only from the tees, but also during our daily decisions. Second changes, he says, are essential to a long and healthy partnership. Having become accustomed to my husband’s repeated requests to “take another one” from the tee, we have started doing the same in our lives. During a recent squabble about putting our daughter to sleep, Bill and I took deep breaths when things got heated and started over with a calm and clear conversation about our three-month old’s bedtime routine. Those mulligans on the course have come in handy in the course of our marriage and on the journey of new parenthood.

  3. Think Ahead & Be Prepared: As a new mother, I have forgotten plenty of pacifiers, diapers, and the like; these moments remind me of leaving my sand wedge on the previous hole or failing to take my putter to the green. The embarrassment of delaying a round of play due to a forgotten club does not quite compare to a screaming infant in a public place; however, planning ahead on the course can translate into properly packing a diaper bag. Just last week, while playing in a charity tournament, I noticed that my mind wandered less and I remembered a whole lot more: plenty of markers, tees, balls, and the like. Whether it is golf teaching me about motherhood or vice versa, the game is quite clearly a metaphor for life and the particular moments in which I find myself living.

I have learned from this game the value of treasuring a moment, whether it takes place in burdensome bunkers or while rocking my daughter to sleep.

 

Source: Updike, John. Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.


Note: previously indicated Upton Sinclair as the author. It has since been corrected to John Updike.

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