Why do we play golf?

By getting your members to take the time to re-evaluate exactly why they play golf you could reinvigorate their passion for the game, says mind coach Karl Morris.

It is interesting to estimate how much of our lives we are just on ‘autopilot’ in some form or other. We do what we did yesterday, today comes and goes and tomorrow can often be much of the same.

Karl MorrisWe drive the same route to our workplace, we have lunch in the same place at the same time, often with the same people. There’s nothing wrong in any of this and clearly life isn’t quite so ordered as I am suggesting but it is well worth occasionally becoming, as the great Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer says, a bit more ‘Mindful and a bit less mindless.’ Just checking in with our mind occasionally and asking some good quality questions to snap us out of the autopilot response.

One of the most habitual phrases used by people is, ‘I have never known it as bad as this’. Be that about the state of their golf game, the economy or the weather! When it comes to the weather this winter just passed then I have to hold my hand up and say that unfortunately I have offered those sentiments to more than one person. From a golfing perspective the winter we have just experienced has been an absolute washout.

My local course was closed for more or less all of the time from the middle of November until mid-February. For many people involved in the golfing industry such a bad winter is the very last thing we needed to see. That said, my own malaise over the state of the weather took a jolt back to reality and I became a bit more mindful of my own perspective after watching a very controversial program aired on BBC2 called ‘Simon’s choice’.

The programme is an extremely moving account of a man struck down in the prime of his life by motor neuron disease and the ensuing battle to deal with this most dreadfully aggressive and debilitating of conditions. In a matter of a few short months from the initial diagnosis this most active of men became an absolute shadow of his former self and, in the end, made the decision to take his own life by assisted suicide in Switzerland.

Perspective is one of the most powerful mental tools in life if we have the self-awareness to use it. If we are able to step out and see sometimes what we perceive as being the ‘end of the world’ isn’t quite that. I have seen it written about Jordan Spieth, one of the world’s best players, that one of his great weapons in his impressive armory of tools to play golf is his healthy sense of perspective on what really is and isn’t important. He has gone on record as saying the health challenges his sister Ellie faces on a daily basis help him to keep a three putt, a hooked tee shot or a missed cut into some kind of sensible perspective.

All of this got me thinking about what I believe to be the most important question a golfer can ask to break out of autopilot: ‘Why do you play golf?’ This is also a important question to ask if you are a coach. If you ask yourself that big question, and don’t automatically take your initial trigger response, then when you dig a bit deeper you might find that in the quest for lower scores you may have actually lost a connection with the qualities you value the most.

I am not saying that wanting to be the best player you can or reducing your scores is in any way a bad thing. I make my living from helping people to reduce their score. But what is it you really value about the game? Is it being in the outdoors, the social interaction or the chance to put yourself to the test physically and mentally?

The reason it is so important for you and your members to think about and answer the question is that, when you do, you can get back to playing your own game for your own unique individual reasons. Every single round of golf then becomes an opportunity to connect with something that just makes you feel good for its own sake. Many of the aspects golfers really value about the game when challenged with this question are not dependent on the score at the end of the round. The social side or the connection with nature are yours for the taking each time you play.

The great paradox is that when you reconnect to your own values of what is important to you about the game you actually provide the fertile ground for your golf being the best it can possibly be. I have often said to golf coaches that we should never assume why people play golf and when someone comes for a lesson it is not always because they want to get down to scratch.

The harrowing documentary about Simon graphically portrayed how we all can easily be lulled into thinking there will always be another round to play or another season to get back into the game. Often people talk about not having the time to play the game. Really? If you genuinely enjoy the game of golf make the time to get out into the fresh air with friends and experience something that makes you feel good.

The clock is ticking for us all but rather than ending on a morose note how good could it be to make that call and get a game organised with a friend you haven’t seen for ages? How good would it be to push the boat out and go and play a championship course and walk the same fairways as the game’s greats? The one thing we all have a very limited supply of is time and ‘Simon’s story’ reinforced to me how vital it is that we make the most of each of the 24 hours granted to us each day.