Reflections on why we play, dear ol’ Dad, and his ‘Don’t Give a Sh*t Swing’ method

A few years ago, I invited readers of my blog to do the ‘Why I Play Golf’ exercise. I’ve been asking coaching clients to do this for years because I believe it provides clarity on what we’re seeking in this game.

I also did the exercise, and my Dad was all over that thing.

Like many golfers of a certain vintage, I was introduced to golf by my late father Dennis as both a sport and a way to make money. Back in the day at private clubs like Sunningdale Golf & Country Club in London, Ontario, it was possible for kids as young as 10 or so to caddie.

My father was an affable fellow who was regarded as generally nice guy and a pretty good player at Sunningdale, where he got down to about a six handicap at his best.

Dad could talk with anyone. When he got laid off from the railroad in his early twenties, he asked his older brother John what he should do. John said: “You’re full of shit. Sell insurance.”

He did. And Dad was very good at it, which made it possible for our family to belong to Sunningdale.

I became an avid junior golfer, but I was a far better caddie than a player. Due to dear old Dad’s influence, I was thoroughly schooled in the noble art of course etiquette, I kept my player’s clubs and golf ball shiny clean at all times, I could talk without fear to adults, and yet I also knew when to keep my ears open and my mouth shut.

Scratch players at the club asked me to caddie for them in the club championship and big club events at Sunningdale. Caddying for great players in competitions was exciting and I believe those experiences are key reasons that golf got its hooks in me.

In reviewing what I wrote during the Why I Play Golf exercise, I was also reminded that throughout most of my life, I believed my worth as a man was equated with my performance—in how well I played bass guitar, in the quality of the magazines that published me, with the car I drove, and how much money I made, yada yada.

That manifested itself in my desire to be a low-handicap player and to show-off a technically proficient swing that would cause heads to turn. But that intense desire to impress and be a ‘player’ like the scratch golfers that I caddied for as a kid caused me to become a paralysis-by-analysis basket-case—a frustrated, underachieving wanna-be.

In writing my Why, it also came back to me that golf has always been a key part of my connection with my parents. My mother Margaret was an avid player too; I enjoyed games in which it was just the two of us. I felt relaxed with Mom because I knew there would be zero commentary on the state of my putting stroke, which was a hazard of golf with Dad.

I was reminded how excited I was to return to Sunningdale as an adult a few times a season to play on a Saturday morning with my Dad and his golf buddies. I was always nervous; anxious to show him and his pals—to whom he bragged about his son, the golf writer—that I was indeed a player.

I was so tight you couldn’t ram a nail up my butt with a hammer, I’d traverse an emotive roller coaster, and usually choke my guts out. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I played badly, I often sulked and dragged my carcass around the course like I was headed to the gallows.

As a young man, I didn’t have the perspective that while my father certainly hoped I’d play well, for him it was mainly about sharing time, his club and the game he loved with me. Talk about if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now perspective.

More than a few times, Dad would say early in the back nine, ‘Hey pal, let’s have fun.’ Naturally, being an arrogant know-it-all whippersnapper, I would dismiss this as more of his unwanted fatherly advice: ‘For God’s sake, I write about the game! I interview PGA Tour players and coaches!’

When I continued to go through my pre-shot process with painstaking deliberateness only to hit the ball into oblivion, he’d sometimes say, ‘Let’s see your ‘Don’t-give-a-shit swing.’

Fuming and with nothing to lose, I’d swing away freely and—pretty well every freaking time—nail a beauty straight down the pike. I think Dad’s ‘don’t-give-a-shit swing’ suggestion was a crude forerunner of ‘stay out of your own way.’

It wasn’t until my boys were playing sports that I realized what was really important. The gift of playing golf with my Dad was being together, connecting, walking in the sunshine in a beautiful place, relishing his golf aphorisms, sharing observations about the game, or recounting what happened in last week’s pro tournament.

When we were both older, I had zero expectations for my own game when we played together. My only intention was to enjoy our shared time together playing the game we loved.

Writing out Why I Play Golf reminded me that I play golf for connection, certainly to memories and feelings associated with playing Mom and Dad, but also with my golf buddies both on the course and off.

The writing practice also affirmed that my Why certainly includes my desire to be a ‘player,’ and that when I commit to swinging like I don’t give a shit, I can play some nice golf. Thanks Dad.

If you are interested in golf coaching or in my Commit to Freedom workshops on improving commitment and accountability in your organization, please send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca.

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!

2 thoughts on “Reflections on why we play, dear ol’ Dad, and his ‘Don’t Give a Sh*t Swing’ method

  1. I agree with Tim’s Father and most of what Tim has learned over the years. I have a swing that has not changed since I started golf at 7. I am now in my 70’s. My friend worries and tinkers with his swing constantly and never gets any better or worse for that matter.
    My Father did not like playing golf with his sons. My Mother did especially later in life. I took her to Florida, Ireland etc. We had fun together.
    I like to be involved in the Golf industry and I am a referee, handicap guy etc. I worked at some Cdn Opens over the years.
    The key is fun, and being sociable with your fellow players and frankly everyone you run into.

  2. Carr … many thx for your note. We had David Leadbetter on your Swing Thoughts podcast last year and–interestingly–he said that once you’ve been playing for a while, your swing is like your DNA. It’s pretty well set. The people who play the best and enjoy golf the most are the folks who adapt to their way of swinging. It’s more fun and it’s your swing, rather than trying to learn someone else’s swing. Carr, it’s obvious that you enjoy the game in all the different ways that it presents itself. Keep on rocking. Take care Tim

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