The Fire Still Burns

Why small time golf tournaments help me test myself in a big way.

Every time I play in a golf tournament my competitive fire get’s reignited. I may not be playing at any elite level these days, but the thrill of trying to win a golf event is still my favorite kind of rush. As much as I love my career and family, I can’t help but wish there were more chances to chase those old feelings.

Like most similarly crazed golfers, I don’t care if it’s an individual event or team outing because when there is some cash, a trophy, or bragging rights on the line my blood starts pumping and I love it. Whether on the first tee, standing over a must-make putt, or staring down a long iron to a par four on Sunday, that nerve racking sensation of tournament golf still makes me tingle.

For a serious weekend golfer( whatever that means), there is no better feeling than putting your limited skills on the line in pursuit of a win. Club tournaments, regional amateur events, and even some charitable outings all have the ability to yield a dopamine super hit when things get rolling. These tournaments create what feels like a runners high for amateur golfers. It’s why I’m sad to see my participation in such events continue to fall.

With the birth of our second child imminent, my tournament playing days are dwindling quickly. I’ll be able to participate in a few here and there, but there is a big difference between one child and two when it relates to playing golf tournaments. I just don’t see many full weekends away from the family happening for some time. It’s the culmination of a trend that has been ongoing since I dropped to a knee with a diamond in hand one evening on the beach in my late 20’s.

Before my wife said yes that night, I was probably playing in close to 20 events a year. When I got married that trimmed to 10. Now with one child in pre-school and another set to be born any day, I’ll be lucky to play five in the next twenty months. That’s still more than most golfers get, but the die hard in me wishes I could go chase that small time personal glory every week.

Life is about trade-offs though. I decided to trade my selfish love for playing golf tournaments in for the rewarding embrace of my family and satisfaction of building a business. However, when I get the chance to go play a tournament It’s hard to suppress how much I love the competition.

When I was growing up, golf tournaments were my life. Through junior events and high school matches I lived to go out and hit it. I was a solid player in those years and won a fair amount of times. Not good enough to go play Division 1 college golf, but I could have held my own on most smaller school teams. Today, I’ve still got some avid golfer skills layered with lots of swing flaws, but I can get it around well enough to compete locally.

Being just good enough to hang around the top third of the local leaderboards is a fairly frustrating existence though. I know that if I could practice more I could threaten a win or two, but to do so would probably require a divorce attorney’s involvement. I love golf tournaments but not that much. What I can do is take the game I have and give it all I can when I get the chance to compete.

In some ways, that approach makes me want to win even more. If I can grab a trophy under these conditions it just makes the story that much better. I can hear Jim Nantz telling the audience in my head how amazing my performance is considering I had to get to kid’s birthday party later and didn’t hit range balls that day. It’s the sort of thought that regularly emerges during the few tournaments I play now.

Such was the case last week, when I traded in all my available hall passes for a two-day fourball tournament at a challenging course here in town. Playing with one of my oldest golf pals, we threw all we had at the place for 36 holes. Set up at 7,200 yards in length, the course hit us with thick rough, cavernous bunkers, and delightfully firm greens. It was quite the challenge. The sun was blisteringly hot, pars were at a premium and after 48 hours focused on golf my wife’s patience was severely tested. Despite all that, I must say I loved every minute.

We didn’t win anything last weekend, but up until the last handful of holes we certainly believed we could. Rolling in putts that feel like they matter and hitting shots to set up scoring feels so good at this point in life. It’s a brief reminder of what I can still do as a golfer. That’s the magic of competing that I long for most.

It has been a few years since I’ve won a tournament. Even with a loose definition of “tournament” I still haven’t seen the podium. I’ve had some nice chances and come quite close to hoisting hardware, but the spot atop the final leaderboard has eluded me. That’s a big reason why I’ve had to change what I see as winning.

When I tee it up in a tournament nowadays, I certainly want to beat everyone else and still believe I can, but really I’m competing against myself. I want to be able to play an event and be proud of how I competed. To me, that means having a plan for how I want to play, striving to execute it, and finding joy in the results when I do.

In last week’s event, after all the playing was done, I sipped on a few cold beers with my partner and had a big smile on my face. We finished middle of the pack, but I felt damn good. I hit the ball great, pursued the course the way I wanted to, and made a number of really clutch putts. It wasn’t enough to take home the trophy, but I was proud.

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to define winning on my own terms. In business, my relationships, and certainly in golf I come up short far more than I win. That’s life though. Those shortcomings are only failures if I don’t learn from them. In that vein, I love competing against myself and trying to get better every time I go out.

Through that same lens, I see each golf tournament as a test. Not some multiple choice farce or heaven forbid a mathematics exam, but more like the old fashioned blue book essays of my undergraduate days. Every tournament offers me a bunch of blank pages and when I play it’s an opportunity to fill them up with the best expression of where my game is. Sometimes, the answers are really good. Others not so much. But just like back in college, it is those type of tests I enjoy taking the most.

I love filling those pages and showcasing what I can do. If I could, I’d play in every oddly named fourball, city championship, and two-man scramble around. That thrill of going after a win never gets old and as I mature, it’s the chance to outplay my current abilities that motivates me the most.

Sooner or later( whenever my wife allows), the best version of my game will align with the opportunity to compete and I’m going to get that win I’ve been hunting. Despite a middling finish last week, my confidence is pretty high after punching above my current weight class for a few days.

Baby boy is due soon so I’ll likely miss out on the final exams of this Summer’s golf season. However, maybe come Fall I can have enough chips to cash in for another tournament or two. I can’t wait to get out there and test my game again.

Until then, I’ll have to find some other ways to tend the competitive fire that still burns so hot inside me. It’s a good motivation when washing the dishes and changing diapers. I can only imagine what Nantz will say about it all.


Thanks as always for reading my friends. If you are enjoying these posts please do share Mid-Am Crisis with your friends.

I’ve had some fun podcast guests of late so if you haven’t had a chance go check out the show on any of your favorite listening platforms. Here is my chat from last week with Sean Martin, Senior Editor, Pgatour.com

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Hit ‘em well wherever you may be playing this week!

Cheers,

-J