A Helpful Hiatus: Forced break has me thinking it’s time to work on my game

Golfweek, a UK-based publication, posted a story on its website last week with the following headline: “European Tour says golf participation in United Kingdom is thriving.” And I had to laugh. In a sad sort of way.

Over the past seven weeks, I’ve played just one round of golf here. Or anywhere for that matter. So my personal golf participation is anything but thriving at the moment. Withering would be a more accurate one-word assessment.

In large part, this is due to my four-week exile in Dallas—without golf clubs in tow. Another contributing factor: When I returned to Kelso, my wife’s parents had arrived for a three-week visit that has since expanded to four weeks. Four days were spent on a driving tour of Scotland, including a two-hour stop in St. Andrews during the run up to the Dunhill Cup. Another four days were devoted to exploring the wilds of the west coast of Ireland, including a quick photo-op at Lahinch—my favorite links on the Emerald Isle. In between, I’ve been juggling my day job duties—testing the WiFi limits of B&Bs far and wide. So my hands have been full, even if they haven’t been wrapped around a Golf Pride grip.

I plan to begin rectifying this situation tomorrow, meeting up with my new golfing buddies at Goswick, where I’m now a member. Hopefully, going forward, my UK golf participation level will be the rule rather than the exception, as documented by Golfweek.

But, looking backward, is it possible that my golf hiatus will actually prove to be a good thing?

As a wee lad, I grew up and learned the game while living in Ohio, where full-fledged winters created distinct playing and non-playing seasons. During the downtime, I had the chance to step back and assess the state of my game. What’s working? What’s not? What changes might improve the performance and enhance the enjoyment?

That offseason assessment fell by the wayside when I moved to Los Angeles 32 years ago. Winter there means the sun doesn’t get quite as high in the sky at noon, changing the mood lighting as if the city were one big Hollywood set. But the playing season plays on, virtually uninterrupted. That might seem like a wonderful thing. But, as is so often the case, reality doesn’t also quite measure up. Like the kid who wishes every day could be Christmas, be very careful what you ask for. Otherwise, you risk losing something quite valuable in the bargain. Such as a golf offseason that allows you to step back and reflect.

Scotland, or course, falls somewhere between these two extremes. Links courses, thanks to their sandy soil, drain sufficiently to be played year-round. So, like LA, you can keep on truckin’ if you’re willing to slog through the general dreariness. Or, you can choose to pull back on the throttle until conditions are more fit for man and beast. Unlike Ohio, an offseason here is more of a conscious choice than a forced imperative.

Now, my current break in links action wasn’t entirely of my doing. But it could prove to be my blessing. It’s given me time to think about the state of my game in my 57th year and come to grips with its slow but steady decline over the past two decades or so. And while I’ll readily accept that some of that erosion is due to the aging process, I’ve begun to entertain the theory that some of it is of my own doing (or lack thereof). My current swing is simply not as fundamentally sound as it once was.

And that begs the question(s): Might it be possible to rebuild the foundation from the ground up? Can I recall lessons I’d once learned but have since forgotten? Can I find my way back to the basics, in such a way that I can regain some semblance of the consistency that was once my hallmark?

In short, can I…should I…work on my game? I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that in any kind of serious and determined manner. Instead, each round has been more a matter of going with the flow, accepting and getting by with whatever shots I had at my disposal in the moment. No doubt influenced in part by my Southern California surroundings, I adopted an Eastern Zen-like approach to golf. And, perhaps, my overall wellbeing has been better off for it.

But, as I come out of this break in the action, my Western ego-driven self very clearly would like to have a turn at the wheel. So over the next 4-6 months, when too much weather and not enough daylight in Scotland will impose an offseason of sorts, I’m going to make regular visits to the practice tee, beat some balls and see if I might be able to strike a healthy balance between letting it go and grinding it out.

If nothing else, it should inspire future posts in this virtual space. So stay tuned! There’s much work to be done.

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