The Mystery of Golf | Arnold Haultain | Inspirational Podcasts

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Today reading has been edited and adapted from the book “The Mystery of Golf” by Arnold Haultain, published in 1912.

Golf is a peculiar game — a very peculiar game. To the onlooker, no doubt, it seems to be one of the silliest and stupidest of games. To the player, golf seems to contain within itself the quintessential attribute of all games; so much so, indeed, that the golfer thinks that the player who would (or could) wholly explain the inner and hidden nature of golf, would explain the inner and hidden nature of all games.

Golf seems to bring players into contact with the very in-most parts of themselves. In football and hockey you come into intimate — and often forcible enough — contact with the outer person; chess is a clash of intellects; but in golf character is laid bare. This is why so many friendships — and some enmities — are formed on the links.

In spite of the ceremony with which the game is played: the elaborate etiquette, the enforced silence during the address, the rigid observance of rules, few if any games so strip an individual of the conventional and the artificial. In a single round you can sum up a person, can say whether they are truthful, courageous, honest, upright, generous, sincere, slow to anger — or the reverse.

Of these arcana of golf the uninitiated onlooker knows nothing. Yet if ever that onlooker is initiated into these mysteries, they change their mind and see in the links a school for the disciplinary exercise of a cynical or stoical self-command rivalling that of the ancient Greeks.

Golf is a test of character in more ways than one: the cheat cannot play golf with others for long: in the end, no one will play with them. It is also a test of tactfulness. Many a person has to learn how to lend a deaf ear politely to a loquacious friend, or to curb their own tongue when playing with a taciturn one. And probably every player (on some occasion or other) has had to keep their own temper sweet while the atmosphere about them was foul with a surly silence or rent by vituperative abuse.

You may lose at bridge; you may be defeated in chess; you may recall lost chances in football; you may remember stupid things you did in tennis; you may regret undue haste in trying sink a simple layup. But the mental depression caused by these is temporary and evanescent. Why do clumsy mistakes in golf affect the player’s psyche so strongly?

Say what the scoffers may, to take your eye off your ball, cuts right down to the very deeps of the human soul. It does: there is no controverting that. Perhaps this is why golf is worth writing about.

Golf is one of the best schools for mind and manners. The person who would attain self-knowledge should frequent the links. If one seriously attempts the task, one will (quote) “find oneself” in golf. Few things better reveal a person to themselves than zealous and persistent efforts to decrease their handicap.

That profound and ancient maxim “know thyself,” a maxim so ancient and profound that it was said to have descended from heaven, might be inscribed on the portal of every Golf Club. Even it might be said that Tennyson’s trinity of excellences (self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self- control) are nowhere so worthily sought, or so efficacious when found, as on the links.

To some this will sound like foolishness; but to golfers it’s an obvious truism. For golf must be played “conscientiously”. The duffer imagines that at the very most it only requires a good “hand and eye” and some sort of knack. A good eye and a very large amount of skill it certainly does need; but the player who thinks that these are the Alpha and Omega of golf will be apt to remain a duffer a long while.

Between this Alpha and this Omega is a whole alphabet. Golf requires the most concentrated mental attention. It also requires (just as concentrated) a moral attention. The moral factors in the game are as important as the physical. The player who succumbs to temptation will have to succumb to defeat.

An old sage once said that we rule enough when we rule ourselves. This should be the motto of every golfer — knowing well the dictum that the individual who conquers themselves is greater than the one who conquers a thousand enemies a thousand times.

In golf the ruler of themselves will take many a hole. — And in truth the golfer knows this, and many and curious are the means that the player adopts to attain this end.

Golf must be played conscientiously. Recklessness never pays in golf. It may once in a great while bring off a thundering drive or an accidentally brilliant approach; but in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand it gives your opponent the hole.

Few things prove this necessity for conscientiousness more than the disastrous results which always follow a yielding to that fatal temptation to force your stroke, that is, to try to go farther than you can. One moment’s consideration will tell you that you must hit accurately, not wildly; yet player after player, at hole after hole, omits that moment’s consideration; hits with all their might; and — perhaps goes fifty yards (sometimes but a few feet).

Golf must be played with a resolute determination not to yield to temptation. This is why the books tell you always to take the honor at the first tee if you win it, and always to keep the lead if you can; because a terrific drive by an opponent is so apt to cause us to forget that determination and to try to outdrive them.

Thousands of matches have been lost by nothing more or less than yielding to this temptation hit the ball farther than we usually can; and thousands perhaps have been won by avoidance of that sin. I know a hale, hearty, kindly septuagenarian who stands high up in the Club Handicap, far above many men, many years his junior. Why? Because he knows his limits.

He cannot drive very far; but he never tries to. It never disconcerts him to be (quote) “away.” He never objects to taking two strokes to your one. He never makes distance. But he always goes straight. And — he is one of the hardest men to beat I ever met.

In golf there is a bad habit called “pressing” the swing. Pressing is putting in the power at the wrong time. You could hit as hard as you liked if you hit accurately and at the right time; but the player who “presses” is the player who puts in the power too soon. He or she is in too great a hurry. They begin the hit before the club-head has come anywhere near the ball. They do not exactly overdo anything; but they do what they ought not to do.

There are more “Don’ts” in golf than there are in any other avocation in life. Here are a few: Don’t hurry — either before the game — or during the game — or after the game; otherwise you will contract the habit.

Don’t hurry your stroke; time is of the essence of the impact.

Don’t mind who your opponent may be; and don’t watch your opponent: you are playing your game; let the other person play theirs.

Don’t lose your temper — about anything, anything whatsoever. If you lose your temper, you lose everything — self-control, self-respect, judgement, equanimity, decency of language, — and, of course, the hole, and probably the game.

Don’t watch the pair behind — even if they drive into you. You can complain afterwards.

Don’t experiment — unless you are in desperate difficulty.

Don’t fuss. Fussiness is inimical to seriousness.

Don’t fidget. Fidgetiness is inimical to steadiness.

Don’t argue. The rules are the rules.

Don’t debate — even with yourself: there is the hole: there are your clubs.

Don’t hesitate. Hesitation evinces weakness, and your opponent will notice it.

Don’t be too polite and don’t be too sympathetic: golf is a combat.

Don’t be cast down: it spoils one’s game. On the other hand, don’t be elated: that, too, spoils one’s ‘ game.

Whether you are “up” or whether you are “down,” don’t vary your game.

Don’t put on airs.

Lastly, and above all, don’t take your eye off your ball — ever.

And, when the game is over, don’t complain or explain.

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