Quite often, lately, you hear professional golfers, who are playing for their livelihood, being interviewed and talking about trying to have fun when they play. Recently, I heard Hunter Mahan, when asked about his goals for this year, talk about just trying to have fun and appreciate how lucky he was to be playing this game for a living. Is this because Hunter doesn't care about winning? I don't think so. I suspect Hunter is a player who wants to win as much as, or more, than anyone else out there. I think he just realizes that the only way he's going to do it, is if he has fun.
Golf at any level is meant to be fun. Yes, you should try to play your best, because you won't be happy with yourself if you don't give it your best, and anything worth doing, is worth doing to the best of your ability; but you should do nothing in golf at the expense of having fun. Ben Hogan worked at the game harder than anyone, but he, as serious as he was about the game, had fun. He loved to work at his game, it wasn't drudgery for him, it was pure joy. He couldn't wait for the next day to dawn so he could get back at it. And, despite his cold, calculating demeanour when he was in the zone, Hogan was reputed to actually be a character who liked to have fun on the golf course. He and Jimmy DeMaret were great pals and often played together, and Jimmy DeMaret was the king of having a good time.
If you watch Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler out there, they are having fun. Sure, they are focussing and playing hard, but on the first day of the tournament at Abu Dhabi, the announcers were commenting about how they were "nattering to each other like a couple of old women," not a very politically correct comment, but the point was that they were doing battle, but they were enjoying each other's company and having a good time. They both shot sixty seven. Having fun doesn't impede your game.
I was thinking about the last time I played a competitive round. It was an Ontario Golf Association match play event which matched our club against three other clubs. The format involved me playing an eighteen hole match against three other players at the same time, a rather unusual format. Because I tend to be a nervous type anyway, and because I wanted to play well, just like my fellow competitors, I was a little keyed up when we started, so much so that I double bogied the first hole, then gagged my way to being four over par after three holes. I was starting to seriously wonder whether I was going to be able to break ninety.
On the fourth hole I hit a good drive and was the last to hit to the green. My fellow competitors had been kind enough to congratulate me on the drive, even though they were probably secretly wondering to themselves what the hell I was doing playing in this event. As I stood over my approach shot, I suddenly decided that I was going to just relax and enjoy the day. I stepped away from the ball, turned to the other guys and said, "I know you probably don't believe it, but I'm actually pretty fricken good."
They laughed. I laughed, and then I proceeded to start making birdies. By the sixteenth hole, I had to stop playing because I had won all my matches. I was one under par. I am not a great player, so any time I beat Old Man Par, I'm a happy camper. Pars are good in my book. But it really wasn't the score that mattered to me, when looking back, it was once again appreciating that the simple act of relaxing, and deciding to have fun, turned my game around.
Golf is one of those games where you can definitely try too hard. Bob Rotella speaks about that. There is an optimum effort level, beyond which we actually get in our own way and actually play worse. And, when I look back on my golf, I am constantly reminded that I play my best when I just relax and let it go. But, being something of a perfectionist, and having played a number of other competitive sports, having fun at golf is not something that comes naturally. I tend to want to put on my game face and do battle with myself and the course. I have to remind myself that, regardless of how I play, I will still get my supper, and hopefully my wife will still love me. It really isn't supposed to be a life and death struggle out there.
So, all I can suggest, to those who might find themselves struggling and working hard at this game, is that you ask yourself whether or not you are having fun. If the answer is no, you shouldn't try harder. You should either quit, which I sometimes think might not be such a bad idea, or you should remind yourself, just like Hunter Mahan, how lucky you are to be out there playing this great game. I bet, just like me, if you make it your goal to have fun, instead of to play your absolute best, the results will come. And, if they don't, at least you'll be having fun; and isn't that what golf is all about?