Why I play golf: Gifts from Dad

Yesterday (April 16, 2020) would have been my father’s 88th birthday. He passed away three years ago in January. I miss him.

The timing is interesting. On Monday, I invited readers of my blog to do a writing exercise about why they play golf. On Tuesday, I did the exercise, and my father Dennis was all over that thing.

I’ve been asking coaching clients to do this for years because it provides clarity on what we’re seeking, it acts like a mission that keeps us aligned with our values, and it provides a road map to mastery and fulfillment.

It’s easy to lose the thread of what’s important in golf, and in life. It’s too bad that it usually takes extraordinary, and often tragic, circumstances such as a pandemic, for us to do be reminded what’s most important.

In doing the exercise, I was reminded that I believed my worth as a man was equated with my performance—in how well I played bass guitar, in the quality of the magazines that published me, with the car I drove, and how much money I made.

That manifested itself in golf in my desire to proclaim that I was a low handicap player and to show-off a technically proficient swing that would cause heads to turn.

I’m providing free coaching sessions during the lockdown. If you would like to connect for a complimentary 30-minute session, send me an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca

Of course, that intense desire to impress and be a ‘player’ like the scratch players that I caddied for as a kid, caused me to become a paralysis-by-analysis basket-case, a frustrated, underachieving wanna-be. 

In reviewing what I wrote about Why I Play Golf on Tuesday, it came back to me that golf has always been a key part of my connection with my parents, Margaret and Dennis.

I was reminded how excited I was to return to Sunningdale in London to play golf with Dad a few times a season, especially on a Saturday morning with his golf buddies. I would be nervous, anxious to show him and his pals—to whom he bragged about his son the golf writer—that I was indeed a player.

And, of course, I would choke my guts out, full of tension and riding a roller coaster of emotions. I’d become that guy who sulks and gets quiet.

More than a few times, Dad would say early in the back nine, ‘Let’s have fun,’ which I would dismiss as more of his unwanted fatherly advice. I was arrogant. For God’s sake, I wrote about the game. I interviewed PGA Tour players and coaches. I wrote golf instruction articles.

After going through my pre-shot routine with painstaking deliberateness, only to hit the ball into oblivion, he’d sometimes say, ‘Let’s see your don’t give a shit swing.’

With nothing to lose, I’d finally listen, swing away freely and, usually, nail a beauty straight down the pike. Of course, I’d quickly fall back into trying hard.

It wasn’t until my boys were playing sports that I realized what was really important. The gift of playing golf with my Dad was just being together, connecting, walking in the sunshine in a beautiful place, sharing observations about the game, or recounting what happened in last week’s tournament.

Fortunately, I eventually got it. When we played together, I had zero expectations for my own game. My only intention was to enjoy our shared time together playing the game we loved. That was the gift. 

Writing out Why I Play Golf reminded me that I play golf for connection, certainly to memories and feelings associated with playing Mom and Dad, but also with my golf buddies both on the course and off. 

The exercise also reminded me that when I commit to playing with freedom—and rely on my ‘don’t give a shit swing’—I usually play my best golf. I come closer to the results that I want without fixating on achieving those results.

That’s what I got out of writing out Why I Play Golf this week. 

Now, I’m even more excited about playing this season.

And I’m reminded that my father was such a gift to me, and to everyone who knew him.

Happy Birthday Dad.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

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