Aged thirteen wearing my dad’s suit trousers I banged my first ever tee shot down the fairway at Brookfield Golf Club. I’d never hit a golf ball before, and was playing with a wooden club that surely belonged in a museum. I doubt the shot was as good as I remember it, but I had the golf bug from that moment on.
Within a few weeks I was playing as often as I could, and on summer holidays daily. My first love was the course and the art of creating shots. I watched hours of YouTube learning about the history of the game. And the more I played, the more the club itself became a home for me and my mates.
This new home was full of peculiar characters, and each member we met joined our teenage in-joke Coronation Street cast. As we got older and improved at golf, these adults became somewhat our equals. They’d bitch about each other to us and look at their phones if we drove the ball past them; moan about their homelife, and lie about golf shots or rounds everyone knew didn’t happen. I was learning so much about golf, but it was their stories and dynamics that really captured me. They’d tell me about their childhoods – which at the time sounded Victorian – or life experiences that were all waiting for me in my future. I felt so lucky at fourteen or fifteen years old to be surrounded by these big characters, getting the inside scoop on what awaited me in adult life. I became obsessed with becoming my own character in this production and, inspired by Ian Poulter, began wearing the most garish outfits I could find. Outside of golf I was aware I was creating my own unique experiences in anticipation of relaying them back in the club house. In the end, no matter how hard I tried I never became ‘one of the lads’, but I did pick up a Junior Golfer of the Year award in a county league which, due to my dodgy swing and on course fashion choices, caused more laughs than celebration.
Around the time I turned eighteen I stopped playing as nightlife caught my attention, and it wasn’t until the pandemic a decade later I picked up a golf club again. Deciding to tee-off in Chingford, West Essex, I didn’t realise I was opening the door for golf to become a fundamental part of my life again. On the surface golf is a bit of an inconvenient hobby, especially when living in central London. Originally I did it because I was bored in lockdown but now I see it’s expensive, takes a long time, involves travelling, and is the most brutally difficult thing on the planet. Therefore I’ll explain why every Sunday I find myself standing in a field with Nic, who I’ve known for five months, putting myself through all this.
For those of you who don’t play, a round of golf is eighteen holes. The average player hits anywhere between seventy-five and ninety-five shots per round –– let’s say eighty-five. With that considered, there’s essentially eighty-five different chances for a huge spectrum of outcomes, and that’s not including your playing partners too. From the pure elation of a pin seeker, to the total ‘I never want to play golf again’ in a shank, it’s needless to say emotions run high on the course.
I first played golf with a mate called Jonjo Wood when we were at school and still play with him today. As I reflect on our years of golf it’s pretty clear that he and I have been on a near-twenty year emotional journey with our games. I’ve hidden my emotions from him at times, don’t get me wrong; but the reality is for us to improve our golf we have expressed, discussed, and together dealt with our feelings. Jonjo’s seen me on the third hole nearly cry at the base of a bunker while my scorecard burns in front of us. So yeah, I’ve thrown a club or whatever –– but during the hours we spend together on the course we’re very comfortable sharing emotions.
When opening up about emotions in golf, sometimes it takes being a bit vulnerable with your mates to do it. Sounds daft but golf is the game that will bring you the highest of highs in the best moments, but the lows are super tough. The only way to deal with those low moments is to discuss them, and normally that’s with your playing partner or a friend.
I find from voicing my frustration at a bad bunker shot on the third, by the fourteenth hole I’m ready to offload everything that’s on my mind regardless of its relevance to golf. In fact the segue from, “oh my god golf is so frustrating”, into discussing what else might be frustrating you in life is a simple one.
I guess what I’ve woken up to is that for me golf has always been somewhat a training ground for life. As a kid I was so attached to the clubhouse and the drama, it taught me a lot about becoming an adult. Now I’m in my thirties, the time spent with friends playing golf has given me the tools and practice I need to improve off the course, and shows me that talking about how you feel improves things. After you discuss the emotions in your game, you improve at dealing with them; you improve your golf, and mentally you can learn to control your emotions.
In golf the idea of control is somewhat limited because the best tee shot you ever hit will land in a divot one day, and could be in the hole on another. There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen. There’s no way to fully ‘control it’. As soon as you hit that first drive you can leave the idea of certainty and being in full control behind –– you’re in it for the ride. Letting the inevitable happen and not worrying about it is the only way to play golf, and it’s not a bad lesson for life.
Last summer I was paired to play with a man who was eighty-seven years old, and it was one of the most inspiring things that has happened in my adult life. When he pointed out that he was nearly three times my age it made me realise that I potentially have over fifty more years playing this game. In that moment, and in reflection, it left me feeling really excited. I guess it reminded me of that thirteen year old boy in his dad’s suit trousers.