I got mad, it felt bad, I was sad, but now I’m … well, less of a danger with anger

This golf season, I’ve been a mad, bad boy.

I’ve been getting annoyed with myself, and even getting into debates with people about getting annoyed.

I’m self-conscious about getting angry on the golf course because I’m a coach. Any coach will tell you: that to thrive as a golfer and in all parts of life, you must practice acceptance. If you accept everything, you don’t get angry and sabotage yourself. You remain present, stay calm, and think clearly. That’s the theory anyway.

It’s just logical. I have told countless people about the beauty of acceptance and the danger of anger and its cousins of rumination, fixation, and indignation. (Gee, say that with a hip hop inflection!)

But I also believe that it’s quite normal to get mad, feel sad, and generally feel bad about this game.

This season I’ve been more volatile. I’ve dropped clubs and F-bombs, buried irons into the turf, and made my share of tosses. (No tomahawks or helicopters).

Last season I played the best golf of my life, so I’m not living up to my expectations. Right! I shouldn’t have expectations either. I’ve been a such bad boy.

He said that by allowing ourselves to be blown around by our emotions, we were suffering “golf insanity.” To keep our negative emotions out of the game, he created the MindTRAK protocol in which you grade yourself two criteria: on how well you assessed and executed each shot. I tried it a few years ago, but frankly found it distracting. Sorry Richard.

My cousin’s husband Dave had a bone to pick with me following a game with him in which I made two back-to-back double bogeys and succumbed to a silent burn. Like Zokol, Dave argued that you shouldn’t allow a bad shot or hole affect your next one.

I agree! It’s logical! It’s just difficult to do.

Most golfers know this. As Howard says, most of us are two swings from a total meltdown.

My argument is that understanding the role of acceptance, knowing techniques, and having strategies helps, but it doesn’t stop everyone from getting emotional, even just occasionally.

Getting angry and feeling disappointed about golf is absurd and irrational, but we do many absurd and irrational things anyway.

As humans, we’re logical and emotional. We’re complex with memories, feelings, shadows, beliefs, and stories that trigger emotions, thoughts, and behaviours of all kinds. We’re not as free as we think we are to choose how we’re going to react. Everyone is linked to their past, which is the greatest determinant of our behaviour. Some people were trained or convinced not to show their emotions, but they’re still there.

This is why practicing acceptance and mindfulness helps us deal more effectively with our emotions and thoughts.

But even so, we’re going to screw up. I sure do. It’s easy to find oneself acting like a five-year old having a tantrum, which is exactly what I did during my recent club championship.

In the second round, my drive ran through the 18th fairway. I punched out and hit a poor approach to about 50 feet. My first putt was way short. The next one slid by about 18 inches. I was annoyed, rushed it, and missed it. I tapped my fourth putt in for a triple-bogey seven.

I faked a smile and shook hands with my partner. After signing my card, I threw my pencil into the dashboard of the cart. I floored the cart through the parking lot. I was in full-on angry mode.

‘Oh my God, you jerk! What kind of coach does that?’ And on and on.

At my car, I took my bag off the cart and banged it noisily on the pavement, which I think was a signal to anyone in earshot to stay the f*** away from me.

Just then, I heard: “Hey Tim, how was your day?”

It was Tim Casarin, smiling and standing behind his car. We had just been re-introduced a few weeks earlier. About a dozen years ago, we were fellow hockey and soccer dads in the same neighbourhood. But as happens, our time chatting rink-side or waving hello when walking the dog was a distant memory.

But in that instant in the parking lot, I felt caught. Exposed. Ridiculous.

Since we crossed paths years ago, Tim—a firefighter in Mississauga—barely survived a horrifying explosion that caused a cinder-block wall to fall on him. He was found with no vital signs and suffered 41 broken bones, including a broken skull, neck, shattered face, and pelvis.

He underwent more than 25 operations. However, within a year, amazingly, he was back at work. His remarkable story of grit and resilience was rightly celebrated and told eagerly. To read about Tim’s accident and incredible recovery, click HERE and HERE..

When Tim said hello in the parking lot, I think my brain immediately interpreted this encounter as: you have absolutely zero reason to be a pouty little boy; you’re facing an amazing man who survived hell and fought his way back to health.

Eventually, words started to tumble awkwardly out of my mouth. As I talked about my round, the tragic bits became comic bits. We both laughed. I felt lighter with every word.

I inquired about his day, and we kibbitzed that every round of a club championship seems to serve up at least one disaster. We ended our chat with a commitment to get together for a chat and play together.

I wandered over to the guys overlooking the 18th green. Looking out over the emerald green grass and at wonderful blue sky, it occurred to me: I had just received a gift of grace. My encounter with Tim was a gift that pulled me out of my self-pitying, raging, wailing ego.

I was reminded that I’m not my golf scores, my stories, my reputation, my self-image, all my BS. I remembered that while golf is important to me, it’s better when I slightly don’t care. At its essence, it’s a walk in the park as Moe Norman used to say. When I make it more than that, I create my own suffering and become insufferable.

In a few years, I won’t remember whether I shot 78 or 84 in that second round. But I know that I’ll remember the gift that Tim Casarin gave me with his presence.

Encountering Tim moved me to some action that I had been putting off. I decided to take a little break from golf to gain some distance from it, and I placed call to an old coach.

The coach provided some perspective and got me re-focused on some areas of my game that I had neglected, including maintaining my commitments to myself. Now, I feel like I’m more in command of where I’m going with my game, and less prone to feeling like the game is a mystery that exists to annoy me. It remains to be seen if I’m now a good boy.

I don’t think things like that happen just as coincidence. I believe God, the universe or whatever you believe in, sometimes give us not what we want, but what we need. I’m glad I accepted the gift.

To read more from Tim O’Connor, click HERE.

Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

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