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This Could Be Ugly

Going to battle with one of golf’s toughest enemies: nerves
Photo: Robert Beck

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It used to strike me somewhere between finding a parking spot, slamming the car door and grabbing my clubs: that stomach-churning moment between consideration and action, a mix of nerves and thrill. It hit me back when I was dating and it still comes with the occasional work event or random party. 

I played high school golf, but drifted away from the game in college; then, semi-miraculously, my job pulled me back in. Part of my responsibilities include playing in several golf events throughout the year. I can play—and I still love it—but when I attend, I know I’m not going to be as skilled as my playing partners. In the first few outings, that stomach churn was as familiar as the boxed lunch. It took some work, but now I look forward to them. 

At my first few functions, nerves overtook me. I would hit maybe six balls on the range, then sheepishly go look for familiar faces or another female companion. When I reached the first tee, the word vomit would flow through my fake-smiling, gritted teeth in an attempt to charm and prepare them for what was coming.

“I don’t play competitively.”

“This could be ugly.”

“I’m not good!” 

“I’m definitely the D player today.”

A sort of self-fulfilling prophecy would follow as I trudged up—usually alone—to the forward tees: Despite prayers for a safe landing, I would inevitably top it. These are moments when you learn about yourself. Good or bad shot, there were still 18 holes to play. So my internal voice would remind me why I was there: because I enjoy being on a golf course and meeting new people. (Also, my boss wouldn’t be thrilled if I ran away and hid in the woods.) Usually my next shot would come off decent. 

The nerves would stick around for six holes or so until I could allow myself to settle in. My coping mechanisms would save the day (self-deprecation works wonders on my psyche), but I also found myself keeping up and laughing as we progressed—my version of a hit-and-giggle round. After we putted out, my playing partners and I would exchange Instagram handles, and I’d leave thinking that maybe I could do it again. 

Eventually I got over the nerves and my immense need to impress. I stopped focusing on myself so much and noticed my playing partners were often with me in the hazard. Yes, I would still dribble a fairway metal 8 yards, but I also helped the team sometimes. My aha moment finally arrived: Nobody here was playing for prestige or the next paycheck. We were playing together. 

It’s always going to be a battle for me on the golf course, but now I’m OK with that. I can’t let the nerves ruin my day, or a possible work connection, or meeting a new friend.

It feels good to know I’ve put myself out there and avoided the comfortable choice. When the sun sets over my beer glass and our group is yelling and laughing over each other while recapping our round, that uneasy feeling between consideration and action is long gone.