Improving At Golf Is Like Improving At Life: Impossible After Awhile!

Golf is a taxing sport which requires a lot of practice, and a lot of patience.  The first time I played golf was in the 8th grade with my father.  Although I was the 5th wheel, I got to tee it up every hole there was a backlog, and hack it up on the site of the fairway as the men played.

I remember needing to go to the bathroom somewhere on the 6th fairway and running for 5 minutes back to the club house because I wasn’t allowed to pee in the woods.  “Pros aren’t peeing in the woods Sam, neither should you.”

With an iron stick, and a ball the size of a plum, golf is one of the hardest sports to learn and excel at.  It took me literally a year of constant play to break 100, and almost 5 years to consistently break 90.  More than 20 years later, I’ve hit a plateau and can hardly ever break 80, no matter how hard I try.

Here are the similarities between golf and life that you may enjoy.

AFTER A CERTAIN POINT, THERE’S NO MORE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

1) Practice. There’s no substitute for practice and it’s not just with one club either.  You must practice all 14 clubs all the time, because all of them are needed at some stage or another.  Hit a 250 yard drive, and you’re left with a 150 yard approach on a par 4 400 yard hole.  If you’ve only practiced your driver and your sand wedge, you are sh*t out of luck.  You likely need your 7, 8, or 9 iron to stick it tight so you can two putt it in the hole.

2) Drive for show, put for dough. Everybody loves to smack a massive drive.  If you want to gain 30-50 yards on your drive, just swing harder!  Actually, it’s not that simple.  You need to be flexible, while having a strong core during your rotation.  You must hit the sweet spot, or your ball will duck hook into the woods.  If you really want that extra yardage, play on a better course in Hawaii.  The balls roll long there.

3) Believe in yourself. Golf requires incredible mental fortitude.  You must visualize the flight of the ball, including where you want it to land before every stroke.  You must believe your line is correct for you to roll the ball a foot past the hole during your puts.  Without belief, your muscles will tell, and you will fail.  Every time I stand over a five foot putt, I tell myself that it’s worth the same as a 280 yard drive so not to f*ck it up!

4) Set expectations and analyze. The reason why it took me 5 years to break 90 consistently is because I didn’t set expectations and break down each hole.  For any given 18 hole regulation course, you’ll get a smattering of par 4’s, three or four par 5’s, and another two or three par 3s.  If you shoot par, you shoot a 70-72, which is an incredible accomplishment and unrealistic for beginners.  Instead, if you break down 18 holes and expect a 5 on each, you will shoot 90.  You allow yourself a double bogie on all your par 3s, and a bogey on all your par 4s.  Do better than that on just one hole and you break 90!

5) Use the right equipment. I played with cavity back irons from Callaway for a decade just because they were the first type of irons I ever used.  Before Callaways, I used knockoffs because that’s all I could afford.  “Big Bubba’s” if I recall correctly.  I never bothered to try something new until about 5 years ago.  Now I play with Mizuno MP-30 semi-blades which allow me to carve the ball for better accuracy.  Just by switching to irons that suit me better, I’ve dropped about 4-5 strokes on average.  Get your equipment tailored to suit your style, height, and strength.  They’ll make a world of difference!

ONE DAY, MAYBE

After 12 months of laser like focus, I got my handicap down to a 10.2 from a 16.5.  I bought new used equipment and played smart golf.  I was regularly shooting in the mid-to- low 80s (82-85) with an occasional blowup into the high 80s and low 90s.  Unfortunately, I was never able to consistently shoot 78-81, which meant that I was never going to achieve my goal of breaking a 10 handicap.  I quit for two years once the 2008 crash came and just played tennis.  So much cheaper and better exercise!

Earlier this year, my friend joined a golf club and started asking me to play with him.  I obliged since each round took only 3.5 hours now.  After shooting a 84, 87, 81, 83 and 84 from the blues, I’ve finally got my handicap to 9.9.  The question now is, do I quit while I’m ahead and relish in the achievement?  Or do I keep trying to get better with an absolutely high chance of getting worse?  It gets logarithmically harder the better one gets where fun starts going out the window.  Funny how we ask the same questions in life all the time.

Any golf fanatics out there with single-digit handicaps?  If you played just once a month, do you think you’d be able to maintain a single-digit handi?

Do you agree that after a certain level, no matter how hard you try, you can no longer improve in life?

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. MD says

    Oh man you’re right when you say that golf is a game of patience. My golf clubs learned this the hard way. I play golf once in a while and coming from a background of soccer and kickboxing, I’ve had a hell of a time trying to calm down and remain patient.

    On another note I know what you mean about hitting a plateau. This happens in every area of life. I find that this is where things get interesting. When you first start at something you grow in leaps. Then as time goes on your growth gets smaller and smaller. Then it’s time to decide what’s next. Do you invest in yourself? Do you try something new? Do you ask for more help?

    • says

      I find myself saying “good enough is good enough” which can be bad and good. I know I will never be a pro, so I’m not willing to put the time and money. I do want to get good enough so I’m not an embarrassment though! That’s one of my biggest goals as if you really suck at something, nobody will ever invite or want to play with you!

  2. says

    Mental fortitude seems to be the key to everything. I watch my daughter play volleyball and in one of her first games, she made a bad set. Her game went downhill from there. Her serve went in the net, and I could see the confidence just falling off her face. I took her out for cocoa afterward and told her that she mentally took herself out of that game. There was nothing different about her skills- she didn’t suddenly lose her volleyball capability. Her mind beat herself up, and she let it happen. In adversity, you just gotta pull your bootstraps up and move forward with your head held high.

    Plateaus are a part of life, and I guess it makes sense because the human body has limits in itself. No matter how much you practice, you probably will never be able to hit a 700 yard drive. Regarding if you should quit while you are ahead, that depends on how much enjoyment you get out of the game. Is it less fun now that you have accomplished your goal? Could your time be better spent elsewhere? Or, do you absolutely love going to the golf course?

    • says

      I totally burnt out for 2-3 yrs. But, ever since my buddy joined a club and we can play 3.5 hr rounds vs 5hr rounds it’s been such a blast!

      Sports is so mental! Hope your daughter finds a happy medium in volleyball. Defeats are kind of crushing, but it teaches us resilience.

  3. says

    Great post. There are definitely things you can learn about yourself and life from the game of golf. I married into a golfing family so I have been immersed into learning how to play. I like being outside and having the fresh air but I am rarely happy with my swing. It definitely takes endurance, motivation, and determination. These are great things to develop for the rest of life.
    Eventually I may become good and hit a plateau but that is far in my future.

  4. Mike Hunt says

    I’m not a golfer but like this post.

    Maybe you need to do something to shake up your state of mind and re-think everything from a totally new angle… meditation, psychedelic drugs, something new?

    -Mike

    • says

      The only thing I can do to regularly break 80 is to play once a week and hit the driving range once or twice a week. It’s impossible to get better without practice and I don’t have the time or money.

  5. says

    Sports is a metaphor for life so golf is no different. There are many things that no matter how much I practice I may never get materially better. I do not play golf, however I see the strategy of the game.

  6. says

    I had plenty of room for improvement in my golf game before giving it up due some back issues. Maybe I’ll see if I can get clearance to get back out there next year! When you’re shooting a 120, there’s lots of room for improvement! For many others though, who are actually good, I’ve heard the same thing – it’s tough to get better once you reach a certain level. People can plateau.

    As for life…I think we can always improve overall. Now, in some specific aspects we might not get better. That’s for sure. But it seems to me like there are always things we can improve on, get smarter about, etc.

    • says

      Ahhhh, to be as lucky and hack it up like you! The MOST fun is when you go from 120 to around 95. Once you hit the low 80s, it’s brutally difficult to get better unless you are playing once a week AND hitting the driving range weekly as well.

      Enjoy your position! I’m envious!

  7. says

    You mean some people actually play golf because they like it and want to get better? :)
    Seriously, I always thought golf was a great game to use to network – so having all that golf time and practice in can’t hurt!

    I do think that certain bodies are built better for certain sports – like Michael Phelps seemed to be built for swimming.

    As to not beng able to improve in life – I have to believe that you can go on improving somehow, in some area of your life. Otherwise it would be too depressing.

    • says

      You’ve got to wonder why 60 year olds who’ve played golf for 40+ years still average a 16 handicap! Everything stops getting better after a certain point, that’s why we move on!

      Golf is definitely a great networking/business sport. More women should play!

  8. says

    This post just makes me happy that I am not a golfer. I definitely prefer sports where the outcome is a lot more dependent on raw effort and hustle. I need sports to get frustration out and burn calories, all I get from golf (hint: I’m terrible) is more frustration! All I can say is that I hope I end up better at life than at golf.

  9. says

    I loved this article and totally agree that golf is the sport that best represents trials and frustrations similar to life. Golf is by far the hardest sport on earth! I don’t want to come off braggy, but baseball has always been my sport, and I was pretty dang good at it. I just don’t understand how I can hit a ball coming to me at 85 MPH but not hit a slightly smaller ball laying at my feet!

    I gotta say that 10.2 HC isn’t bad! mine is still 20+ Lol

    • says

      Funny comparison btwn baseball and golf! It is strange ain’t it? Ya gotta break 20 handi man. Life is too short not to!

      I finally broke 10 and am sitting at a 9.9 lol. Don’t want to play any more b/c i might have a couple blow up rounds!

  10. Darwin's Money says

    I find golf to be much more frustrating than life.

    I’ve never even tried to calculate my handicap.

    But both can be quite enjoyable depending on who you spend your time with!

  11. says

    Golf just isn’t for me. I tend to enjoy sports that I can pick up immediately, and golf definitely isn’t a sport you can just leisurely learn. Then again, I don’t exactly live in an area that would make golf a very good sport anyway. Either it’s too cold, or WAYY too hot.

    • says

      Ya gotta do it man. It could be the difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings over your lifetime!!!

      If I could turn back time, I would have forced my dad to make my play every week since I could hold a stick. The sport is huge for all business!

  12. says

    The only time I ever tried golf was in Hawaii.

    It was a 9 hole golf course. I sucked at it of course, and I found it frustrating because you are AIMING at something you can’t even see, half the time.

    I guess that’s analogous to life too! We often can’t see the END point, we can see the GENERAL direction but not the “hole in one”.

    Great post and fantastic pic!

  13. says

    I love the game of golf but simply don’t get to play as much as I would like. I can usually get in about 8-10 rounds during the summer months plus a few more in the spring or fall. Still, my handicap is about 16 and it is nice that I can pick up the clubs after a month off and still shoot what I would expect.

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