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Opinion & Analysis

The spiritual side of golf

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Golf in its most fully realized form is a spiritual endeavor. Like the evolutionary layers of the human brain or the stages of growth in a human life, there are different levels at which golf can be experienced, from the physical to the spiritual, and many levels in between.

In this series, The Spiritual Side, golf will be discussed and analyzed from a spiritual perspective. The term “spiritual” is used here in its broadest sense, encompassing everything from meditation to the world’s major religions to simple conscious gratitude, and as distinguished from terms like mental, emotional, scientific, etc.

In “Golf My Way,” Jack Nicklaus wrote that a golf shot is based only ten percent upon the swing. The other ninety percent that determines the outcome of the shot is how you see the shot (fifty percent) and how you set up (forty percent). In today’s modern golf-scape, it is easy to feel that golf is ninety percent what clubs you have in your bag and ten percent the mechanics of your swing. While I have been known to admire certain golf clubs and fixate on my wrist angle at the top of my backswing, to experience golf only from a material or performance perspective can leave one feeling empty. What is golf really about? Why do we play? At the end of our lives, what aspects of golf will we look back upon and cherish? What aspects will we regret?

One of my favorite things about golf is that almost everything about it is a perfect metaphor for life. A popular saying goes “You’ll know everything you need to know about a person after playing eighteen holes with them.” As I look back on my golfing life, its stages almost perfectly mirror the stages of my life as a whole. As a child, I was captured by the wonder of the game, the adventure of it. I can still smell the grass and feel the excitement in my veins on the morning I first set a pure white ball on a colorful tee on an actual golf course. As a teenager, I became obsessed with my score, my very being and self-worth desperately tied to every shot. In my twenties, golf took on a less important role, as I explored the world and figured out who I was and wanted to become. In my thirties, golf has been about the journey, the joy of being outdoors, being with my playing partners, relishing in the good shots and rounds, shaking my head in confusion and laughter at the terrible shots. For each of these stages of golf, the same could be said about the corresponding stage of my life, substituting years for rounds, my perspective on successes and failures in life a mirror of my reaction to flushed drives and shanks.

As my relationship to golf changes and evolves, I can’t help but notice the progression away from the elemental, the ego, and the emotional, toward awareness, gratitude, and the spiritual. This series will be about that evolution, and how spiritual experience represents the final and highest stage of golf actualization. It will be an exploration for me, as well as hopefully the reader and the contributor. I do not claim to know everything about golf and spirituality, and I am no guru. But I do believe that a spiritual experience is the highest expression of our beloved game. And if you feel as I do that this aspect of golf (and, as always, the word “life” may be substituted for “golf”) has been under-represented in the mediasphere; hopefully you will find this series worthwhile and edifying.

I look forward to reading your comments, having a conversation, and seeing where this series may take us. This area of inquiry is rich and fertile, and while I have several ideas for future topics, I’m sure the contribution from this community will take the series in unforeseen yet fascinating directions.

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Devon Petersen learned to golf in the harsh conditions of the high plains in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He doesn’t exactly know why, but for some reason around the age of twelve, he felt an intense urge to be on a golf course. He played high school golf and lucked into an adolescent golfer’s dream job of working at a golf course in the summers until he left for college at Princeton University. There he majored in history with an emphasis on cultural and intellectual history. He traveled extensively during and after college, absorbing the varied views on life from Argentina to Thailand. Following these sojourns, he returned to Wyoming where he studied law, became a lawyer, got married, and began to think about golf on more spiritual terms.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. John

    May 4, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    I think you are on to something worth reflecting on. There is much to grateful for on the golf course—your playing comrades, the natural surroundings including the wildlife, the creativity of the course designer, and your own physical ability and skill. These aspects in my experience are spiritual.

  2. CB

    Apr 28, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    It’s spiritual and wonderful right up until my 3rd double bogey. I enjoy golf more when I’m able to accept that I’m terrible. However I’m too much of a competitor to just enjoy an 85 for the 257th time. No, for me any round in the 70’s brings on a fabulous spiritual connection that I treasure. Happens 4 or 5 times a year, so it ain’t all that bad.

  3. Kansas lefty

    Apr 28, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    When you make this connection golf becomes more beautiful

    • geohogan

      Apr 30, 2019 at 11:57 am

      Regretably, only a relatively small % of the population is capable of experiencing these levels of appreciation of nature of beauty.

      As we learn more about the human brain, it is becoming obvious that %^ of the population is deficient in areas of the brain responsible for specific thought processes.
      in the extreme, psychopaths have underdeveloped or are missing entirely the
      amygdala; that area of the brain responsible for empathy and compassion.

      The brains of many others simply make them incapable of appreciation of the same aesthetic.
      Gives meaning to : Forgive them for they know not…..

  4. Acemandrake

    Apr 28, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Golf provides the opportunity to be our best selves.

  5. Dennis

    Apr 28, 2019 at 1:41 am

    Golf is a fair game – Life is not.

  6. Spit

    Apr 28, 2019 at 1:39 am

    omg stfu geez leave it out you talking bs nobody cares about this sh111t you getting it confused with spit

    • Rascal

      Apr 28, 2019 at 1:54 pm

      Is this what passes hip hop nowadays? Sad.

  7. Jamie

    Apr 27, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    I’m really looking forward to reading this. So far it perfectly reflects my experience with the game of golf…and life…as well.

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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