My late husband and I are at our favorite golf course in Palm Springs. It’s 108 degrees in June. We are on vacation, precious time away from our Edmonds home and most especially, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, which my husband visited at least monthly in the good years and way more in the bad years. We loved golfing together, zooming around the sparsely populated course, just the two of us.
I hit a shot. It ends up in a terrible lie, as it often did in those days because I was still learning to golf (a bad lie is a place where I’m much more likely to have a tough time hitting a good shot from).
Dan says to me, “Move the ball, babe. Give yourself a better lie.”
I say, “No I can’t, I have to count every stroke.”
Dan says, “This isn’t about your score. You won’t learn to golf better unless you can give yourself the opportunity to hit good shots. Save the stroke counting for your women’s club competition.”
I’m silent as I just step up and hit it, ignoring his advice. Most of the time it’s a crappy shot at which point it becomes a string of crappy shots until I finally, painfully, make it into the hole. And I ignore his advice just about every time. He doesn’t keep score, he enjoys the game. I do keep score, and it’s painful. I never fail to enter it into the USGA’s handicap system.
And that was me, in those precious moments on the golf course with my husband, the person who loved me and supported me more than anything, and that just wanted the best for me. I was simply incapable of listening to him, incapable of making the game of golf about a feel and an exercise in success, not even some of the time. I could not put a better chance at hitting the ball successfully ahead of my worry about not counting every stroke perfectly.
I’m such a rule-follower. I can barely live with myself if I don’t do everything correctly (although I’ve gotten a lot better about that). One time I was parked in downtown Edmonds at the dentist, and the nose of my car was barely over the white line. Not only did I move the car once (still wasn’t inside the white line) but I spent the entire appointment wondering if I would get a ticket. Yep that’s me.
Dan was a very good golfer, but he never established a handicap; he played simply for the joy of it. He was a great coach, and knew intuitively that I would benefit from hitting good shots, but I would not allow him to give me the advice that he knew would make me a better player. Every time I hit a great shot, he would yell “Oh my God!” as if it were the greatest shot he’d ever seen; how many of those did I miss hearing? Every time I refused to move the ball I did not receive the gift he was trying to give me.
For what? Would I have been a bad person if I moved that ball? I certainly thought so.
Then there was the time I was golfing with my new boyfriend (now husband) Eric, who upon seeing where my ball had landed in tough spot, told me for the first time, “Move your ball out of that lie before you hit it.” I could not contain the regret that flooded me. As we continued golfing, I sobbed inconsolably for at least 15 minutes, so sad for all those times I didn’t just move the ball when Dan told me to, for those lost moments.
If I ever stop defining myself by whether or not I follow the rules perfectly, if I ever truly am able to fully support myself with love and compassion instead of perfection and judgement, then I will consider myself to have reached a new level of personal growth. I’m working on it.
By the way, I improved the lie when Eric told me to and I hit a good shot — and I felt the satisfaction, even through my tears. No regrets.
Because, there are times in life when it’s OK to move the ball. It really is.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.advancedathlete.com.