Lessons from the Golf Course


“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I’ve never done this before.”

“There’s a lot to remember.”

The words of a frustrated third grader struggling to grasp the finer points of geometry? Or the words of an ambitious retiree playing golf for the first time?

If you guessed “golfer,” you’re right!

Last week, my dad and I invited my mother – who never graduated past miniature golf – to join us for a round of pitch-and-putt. It was a challenge to her: honor your longstanding interest in learning how to play golf. She accepted, and the ensuing round was loaded with many instances of instruction being broken down and a student giving her all for personal improvement.

I started with the most basic points about the swing: keep your head down and keep your feet planted. Stand with your feet shoulder length apart and stand at a comfortable distance from the ball. I watched the first swing of my mother’s life and tried not to cringe as the club head slammed violently into the grass, kicking up a patch of dirt and propelling it a foot forward. And I said, “That’s all right. Do it again.”

On the first tee, she struck the ball and it dribbled oh, maybe 10 feet to the side. A great shot? Certainly not. A great start for a novice? Surely. My dad and I were sufficiently impressed and offered praise (no doubt motivating our newcomer to see a positive in what the casual observer would consider failure.)

As certain flaws in the swing became apparent – lifting of the head, stepping off to to the side with the lead foot, lining up of the club in the proper direction, swinging a putter on the green with far too much force – we differentiated our instruction. Focusing on each area of need while continuing to encourage meant that by the final holes, shots were getting some air and going straight into the fairway. There was a marked improvement from the first tee to the last, and no doubt the data (aka the scorecard) would agree!

It just shows you that when a student says, “I can’t” and shows needs, we need to assess and instruct to help them improve. We need to help them maintain a positive attitude and a belief in their abilities. We need to convince them that what starts off as a difficult concept will become easier with dedication and assistance.

Even a trip to the sand trap couldn't dampen my mother's enthusiasm to improve her golf game. Fore!

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