Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stream of (Total) Consciousness: 7/25/13

Another day, another scratch.

That's some more Bandon Dunes caddie lingo for you. If you're in the shack waiting for a job, and you decide to give up for the day and leave, that means you "scratched." I have no clue where the term comes from; my guess is that before everything was done on computers, there was probably an actual piece of paper on which you had to write your name, and if you chose to go home early, you had to scratch it off the list.

Regardless, I hung in until about 2 p.m., but by then, I was mentally toasted and had to get out of there. I was also eager to go to the practice center to work on my golf game. As I mentioned the other day, I am in the midst of arguably the worst slump of my golfing career. Given that, "eager" probably wasn't the best word to use a couple of sentences ago; "need" may have been better. I needed to go to the practice center, so that I could potentially squash the all-consuming feelings of inadequacy that are always present when I can't locate my game. I know that I take it all far too seriously, and that it's too closely aligned with my self esteem. I just can't seem to disassociate from it. This was part of my downfall a number of years ago when I attempted to play competitively -- when the state of my game was bad, it made me feel like I was a bad person, and it inevitably became too much to handle.

Ever since then, I haven't really played that much golf, maybe four to five rounds a year. I needed a break for a while after, and then I moved to Washington, D.C., where the weather was iffy and, more importantly, where my father wasn't -- meaning he was no longer there to pay for my green fees. I'd go to the range every so often, but never anything consistently. And while some people can pick up right where they left off after a long layoff, I am definitely not one of those people. Every time I would go to practice, it was as if I was in a slump, and I would have to languish through a couple of buckets full of hideous swings before I regained some measure of command. But invariably, I always just took a little time. In a lot of ways, it was similar to my writing process -- things appeared hopeless at first, and they were never pretty along the way, but I would keep hacking away until there'd finally be a presentable product.

But that hasn't happened this time around. Not yet, at least. If anything, it's just continued to get worse and worse. Every day, I go to the range full of hope that the tip I read or the video I watched the night before would unlock the key, and every afternoon, I slam the trunk of my car in frustration, feeling even more defeated than before. I know that I've joked/complained about it a bunch, but on some level, the universe is looking out for me by not bringing me any friends, because if I were to go out and play these courses right now, it would be an absolute nightmare. I don't think I'd stand a chance of breaking 100. It's that bad.

This deterioration hasn't been some sort of gradual slide, as if someone were setting the mood with their living room's dimmer; this happened all at once, one flick of the switch engulfing me in total darkness. In fact, I can pinpoint exactly when the lights went out. It was mid-March, a seemingly endless winter in D.C. finally giving way to spring, and I went to the range one Saturday morning to knock the rust off my game. This was a typical, nothing-to-see-here weekend activity, and in most instances, I'd have no prayer of remembering something so mundane. But this outing was different, mainly because it was a decade-and-a-half in the making.

For the first time since college, I had a brand new set of golf clubs.

I'd just officially bought them a week before, and I was anxious to break them in. Correction: my parents were the ones who'd technically bought them -- I had just picked them out. They were my birthday present from back in October, and I'd taken my time in doing my research, determined to get the most bang for my mom and dad's buck.

Getting new clubs was a huge deal for me, because I had played with the same set -- a set my grandfather bought me (notice the pattern here in regards to me and my aversion to paying for golf stuff) -- for the previous 16 years. This is an eternity for golf clubs. They're actually a lot like computers in this way, in that it's almost impossible to keep up with the rapidly developing technology. One minute, a particular design is the hottest option on the market. The next, it's already out of date, supplanted by something that is that much more advanced. The industry moves that quickly.

So after a year or two, my clubs had turned stale; they were last season's wardrobe. After a few more, they were completely out of style and in bad need of replacement. And after eight or nine, they were undeniably ancient, and the more time passed, the more I wondered if they were capping my development as a player. Maybe if I had equipment that was more current, I'd be able to hit it farther and straighter, and I could get even more benefit out of any technical improvements I'd achieved through practice. There was no way of knowing what I was leaving on the table, and whenever I stepped onto the tee, the past-its-prime club I was looking down on gave me that much more cause for concern.      

But in a strange, this-totally-contradicts-what-you-just-said way, it also put me at ease.

Yes, I was at a disadvantage with the out-of-date equipment in my hands, but having that out-of-date equipment simultaneously gave me a built-in excuse for every poor shot I hit. Over-hooked it into the bunker? It wasn't me, it was the club. Banana-balled it into that irate woman's swimming pool? It wasn't me, it was the club. Honey came in and she caught me red-handed, creeping with the girl next door? It wasn't me...wait...forget that last one...those are the lyrics from Shaggy's 2001 hit single about cheating on your girlfriend, but you get the point. Having less than the best meant that I no longer had to take ownership for my shortcomings, and there was a (pathetic) comfort in that. It freed me up to swing without restriction and padded my landing in the case of a bad result. And whenever I didn't hit it as far or as straight as I thought I should, or I didn't play as well as I hoped that I would, those old clubs served as a convenient crutch on which to lean.

But once I got my new irons a few months ago, that crutch was taken out from under me. Suddenly, I did have the latest and greatest, the same clubs that were featured on every TV commercial and in every golf magazine, the same clubs that the pros on tour were playing. If I hit it badly, there was nobody or no thing to blame but me. And in looking at how everything has gone recently, I can't say I've handled this new reality all that well.

When it comes to things I care about the most, I've always been terrified of going all out, of giving my absolute best. This goes against everything I was taught to do as a kid, but it's developed into a sort of defense mechanism -- if I give something everything I've got, and I still come up short, what happens then? How am I supposed to cope with that? That's the ballgame, end of story. So by leaving a little in the tank, at least I can continue to hold out hope that the future will bring something different. There's safety in uncertainty.

I know how cowardly this sounds (and is), but I do believe there's an element of this fear at play in my current golf game. The timing of it all is just too coincidental. And now I'm even more in my head about it than ever before. The howling winds you have to practice in here aren't making things any easier, either. I realize that everybody goes through slumps, and I'm counting on the fact that (fingers crossed) I'll eventually come out the other side of this.

In the meantime, though, it's gotten to the point where I question if, by going to practice, I'm doing more harm than good. I don't know what other option there is, but I do know that whenever I rake another ball over, just before I'm set to take that next swing that will most likely end in frustration, it's awfully tempting to scratch.

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?