What I learned playing golf with very old men

by Chris Cloud

If you’ve ever played golf, you know that often times you do the opposite of what you would naturally think you should do. So in life, it seems.

Sometimes in order to improve, you have to stop trying so hard.

There was a season where I was playing quite a bit of golf. (Not any more; I’ve given it up for long distance running and other things). I learned something I’ll never forget from playing with very old men (80+ yrs) on a number of occasions.

I’d try to get up there and swat the crud out of the ball, and get angry when I didn’t hit it 300+ yards. I’d play agitated, often overly aggressive or optimistic about my abilities. Often foregoing sound strategy and instead trying to crush it over the lake or the woods. 

Not the old gentlemen. They knew their physical limitations, and had reams of patience to spare. Each one played within himself, didn’t kid himself about his abilities. He calmly and easily hit the ball straight down the fairway, every time. Not that far, but straight. Then he laid up, knowing he wouldn’t reach the green. No sweat. Once on the green, he calmly and without excess emotion putted it in. And boy could he putt. Years of practice had made him a master at reading greens. He settled for par, and ended up beating me almost every time.

What was the difference? 

Like Chinese finger locks, the harder I tried to brute force it, the worse it got. Contrast that with the gentle, patient, peaceful approach of the old men. They knew they don’t have much strength, so they didn’t rely on the strength. It’s counterintuitive, but sometimes it takes easing off in order to advance.

“I wish I had learned earlier in my career...the less you do, the more you accomplish as a leader”
— Andy Stanley