Sunday, June 06, 2010

Golf As Therapy

I am not an avid golfer. I am, in fact, a terrible golfer. However, a month or two ago, I was under a great deal of stress and felt the incredible urge to smash the tar out of something. Rather than go home and demolish glassware (resulting in a messy and potentially dangerous cleanup) or play violent video games (of which I own precisely zero), I decided to try for physical exercise. My dislike for aerobics grows more intense by the year, so that was out. I have a bad back and bad ankles, so running wasn't high on my list, either. Weightlifting? Okay, maybe, but not nearly so satisfying. Somehow there really wasn't anything I could think of in my moment of stress that could be more relaxing than taking a whack at an inanimate object.

I was down to the driving range or the batting cages when I recalled my joyful experience in little league baseball and getting whacked on the elbow (ye olde un-funny bone) by a fastball. That settled it for me: I'd pick up golf again. The ball's a lot smaller, and it's not flying at you at 70-90 miles per hour.

My grandmother tried to get us grandkids to learn golf, and I learned an ugly golf swing in high school and college (did I mention how happy I was to learn I could take phys. ed. pass/fail?). I hit golf balls for stress relief and as an excuse to drink beer when I worked at Disney, and I've probably been on two or three actual full courses in my entire life. I gave up Grandpa Leahy's hand-me-down clubs when I moved out of Florida, figuring I'd never be able to afford golf in Northern Virginia (and I was right).

So when I say I've picked up golf, let's just be clear here: I'm hitting balls at the driving range. I might get myself some actual clubs and play a full 18 holes before the summer is out. But for now I'm going to the Madison Golf Center and, for a reasonably low price, I can get a bucket of balls, rent a club, and buy a couple of beers ($2 each) for 30-40 minutes of spherical impact therapy. I think it's working: my swing, distance, and accuracy are all improving. At least I'm able to shoot straight--I've had a tendency to slice since I first picked up a club.

I usually ask for a 3-wood (also a $2 rental) because while drivers are nice, I spend more time in the rough and far from either the tee or the pin. I've been too cheap to pay for more lessons, so I've been correcting my swing empirically, experimenting mostly with the angle of the club head to keep my swing from knocking the ball past the person on the next tee. On one particularly ugly day, I was not happy, but I was hitting the ball 150 yards instead of my usual 125 (amazing how much angst can help a golf swing). The Madison Golf Center also has a few pins out there in the field and, swelp me, I actually got a hole in one that day.

Here's why golf is therapeutic for me:
  • It's quiet. At least there's an expectation of quiet from the participants and spectators, as opposed to baseball, where the ball flies at you at 90 miles per hour while people are shouting at you. (There's a reason they put me on the bad-kids team in little league, and why I only played one season.)
  • If you're a cube-bound desk jockey like me, it gives your brain something completely different to think about--coordinating your muscles rather than moving words and electrons across a screen all day.
  • Most everyone else at the driving range sucks as badly as I do, so I'm not in competition with anybody--a major plus for the self-conscious non-athlete.
  • It can actually be personally satisfying to get hold of a swing and have the ball go where you want it to go. This was a bit surprising to me, as I've not found many sports that actually improved my mood after I finished playing them. It doesn't happen on every swing, to be certain, but often enough that I feel I'm improving. I'm not firing a bunch of Mulligans across the range every time, at any rate. Better late than never.
  • And yeah, I can hit something and it's considered socially acceptable.
There are worse ways to relax.

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