Tuesday, July 27, 2010



I once had a music teacher who said little more than “You made a mistake.” Go back to letter _. Not a particularly inspired or inspiring pedagogical approach. He taught fear of failure.

Some golfers say they do not play against an opponent. They play against ‘old man par’. Non golfers may know the expression ‘Par for the course’. This is a target goal based on length of the holes. (Most courses are par 72. It is said that the average weekend golfer rarely breaks 100.) When they play against ‘old man par’, what golfers are saying is that they try to play their best without regard to what their opponents do. They play against par not against fellow golfers. Golfers learn early on that, as Bob Rotella said in the title of his book, “Golf is not a game of perfect.”

One log some golfers keep is a ‘Ringer Score’. A ‘Ringer Score’ is kept for a frequently played course and is continually updated keeping the best score ever shot on a hole-by-hole basis. A hole-in-one is so rare that some golfers never experience one. Not that it isn’t possible; it’s just that there is an element of luck. It is an ‘eagle’; two under par for the hole on a par three. The same is true of an eagle on a par four or a par five. No matter what your skill level, the golf gods must smile on you for an eagle. I once eagled number eighteen on my home course. It is a difficult uphill par four into a ‘potato chip’ shaped green. I am wise enough to know that if I live for another thirty years and play every day it will not likely happen again. In fact I am happy on the rare occasion when I par that hole. Nonetheless I now know that an eafle is possible. It is now part of my ‘Ringer Score’, the accumulation of best scores on each hole. Professional golfers are more than capable of a birdie (one under par) on every hole they play. A tournament is four days of eighteen holes a day at par 72 per round. One under par on each of eighteen holes would be a round of 54. Even though a birdie is within possibilities on every hole and in fact eagles are possible, no golfer has ever shot a round lower than 59 in PGA tournament play. If 59 is possible and has been done, couldn’t it be repeated in a four day tournament? It has not yet. Four days of tournament golf times par of 72 is 288. A birdie on every hole would be 216. To date the lowest tournament round ever is 265 posted by David Thoms in 2001 followed by a 266 by Phil Michelson the same year. This is a long way of saying that ‘Golf is not a game of perfect’.

A golfer may finish his round of tournament play an hour before the last group. It is not possible to play against your opponent in that scenario. And so golfers learn to play against ‘old man par’. A musician must learn to measure his performance against the ideal in his head while accepting the reality that comes out of his horn. A musician can only perform to a percentage of his ideal in an audition. Whether the audition committee holds the same concept of ideal is beyond his control. Ben Hogan said all he could do was send the golf ball on its way. It was up to the winds to guide it safely to the green.

As with music, our goal is that an imperfect performance is good. Golf is about the quality of your misses. Musical performance is about the level of your mistakes.

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