Wednesday, 22 August 2018


Routine can sometimes kill you. I worked in the Canadian federal penitentiary service for thirty years. Things run a certain way, and except for the occasional flare up, it is often a mundane, mind-numbing job for a guard. Life expectancy for guards is 59. I guess that statistic itself tells the story.

But many convicts tend to find a certain comfort in the routine. They get to know the rules of the prison and the convict code, and they get to know their place. My first suicide involved a young inmate who had found himself in trouble. He asked to go to segregation, claiming he needed a transfer to the regional psychiatric centre to get his head straight. He never mentioned any suicidal intent, and we suspected what his problem really was was drug debts.

In any event we put him in the hole and I happened to be assigned there for the midnight shift on overtime. I spoke to the inmate during the early part of the shift, but he was soon asleep. I went home to my bed. 

The next afternoon I returned for my regular shift to find that this inmate had hung himself that morning at breakfast time. Whether he had actually wanted to die, or was just trying to secure a fast transfer to the psych centre, we'll never know. But it could be that he was killed because of routine.

When the meal cart arrived at the hole, the routine was for it to go to the far end of the range first. This inmate had spent time before in the hole and anticipated that routine. It seems that when he heard the meal cart arrive, he strung himself up on the bars in his cell at the far end of the range, likely anticipating the cart to arrive momentarily and the staff to cut him down. 

In this case, however, there was a new officer transferred in from Millhaven in charge of the hole. He decided to tell the staff to start feeding from the front end--a departure from the routine. When they finally got to this inmate's cell he was long gone. 

A buddy of mine, who had started in the service at the same time as I did, was working in the hole that morning and told me that as they were wheeling the inmate out a grizzled, old guard muttered: "I wonder if his shoes would fit me." A slice of life in the big house.

What has this got to do with golf? Perhaps nothing, but there is an emphasis on routine in golf as well as the joint. Golfers are encouraged to develop a pre-shot routine--a sort of ritual they perform prior to hitting a golf shot. This came about from teachers observing good players and noticing that they did pretty much the same thing prior to hitting a shot. Some of those things might be mannerisms, like tugging on a shirt sleeve, or taking a certain nummber of wagglles with the club, prior to making a full swing. But good players tend to follow their own routine, whether they are aware of it or not. So many teachers encourage us all to do it.

Now you see average players opening and closing the flap on their golf glove prior to the shot, like Ernie Els does, or tugging on their shirt sleeve like Tiger did when he wore those baggy shirts. We see them doing lots of things like a ritual before they play a shot. And sometimes this routine they perform has nothing to do with actually preparing them to hit a shot. Sometimes these rituals are empty and do nothing to actually insure that they have decided on the shot they want to hit, where they want to hit it, or that they are mentally and physically prepared to hit it. In this case, their routine could be killing them--in a manner of speaking.

Golf is anything but a routine game. Every day is different. So, be careful that you don't get lulled into a routine approch to the game. Treat every shot as a new opportunity. Commit to your shot. Do the best you can. It might just end up being one of the best shots you've ever hit. And, as I write this, I realize that this is something I need to work on as much as the next guy. When you do it, golf can be really fun, not just a good walk spoiled.