We would all be thankful if we could go through life without having to experience the five stages of grief. But grief will touch us all. Most of us will find a way to get through it and move on. Golf grief is a different matter.
I once played with a scratch golfer who, after missing a makeable birdie putt, slammed his putter against his shoe in disgust. He went on to shoot even par for the round, but still steamed about that missed birdie, which would have broken par. I, on the other hand, would have needed that birdie putt for a smooth 94 instead of the 97 I wound up shooting. I finished the day steamed that my putt for double bogey on that same hole lipped the cup.
But anger is only one of the six stages of golf grief. In golf, there is one additional stage, the one that eventually gives golf grief its eternal quality.
The denial stage begins on the first tee. It generally follows what you just told your partners was the best warm-up on the range you’ve ever had. “Everything went straight and long.” Then you step up and send one dead right and short over the O.B. stakes. “That can’t be me,” you scream.
As hole after hole fails to generate anything near the effortless and flowing swings back on the range, as the fairways soon become mottled with divots that resemble a strip mining operation, the anger stage follows.
The start of the back nine is where the bargaining stage commences. You tell yourself it’s a whole new nine and that you can still salvage a sub-90 round. Your buddies may see your bargaining stage simply as denial all over again, since there has been nothing in your game to suggest that the back nine won’t actually be worse than the front.
So the depression stage inevitably appears around the 15th hole, when your mental calculations indicate you’ll need to birdie-birdie-eagle just to finish on the number at 90. “Guys, I hate to say this, but this is the last round of golf I’m ever going to play. I just can’t take this anymore.”
Suddenly, however, you step up to the 18th tee, and for the first time that day, stripe a drive that splits the center in a gentle draw, reminiscent of one you had produced back on the range. Your approach shot flies high and on target, landing on the green 10 feet from the cup, which you firmly drain for a birdie. The result is a smooth 94 you would have settled for just a couple of rounds ago. Acceptance, the fifth stage of golf grief, now flows like honey through your veins.
And that is what brings you to the doorstep of golf grief’s sixth and final stage: Repetition.
Repetition is the stage that proves golf grief is something we aspire to, rather than avoid. From the guy who can’t stand life itself because he failed to break par, to the guy who can’t stand life itself because he failed to break 100, golf provides the grief that keeps on giving. This is why “How much golf is too much?” has no answer—until we can first answer the question, “How much golf grief is too much?”
It is those who learn to embrace the eternal grief who attain golf’s Nirvana, the stage at which we learn to play without a scorecard or a handicap, just to enjoy a pleasant, unspoiled walk among God’s great universe, telling ourselves that birdie, par or bogey no longer makes any difference whatsoever.
In other words, we’ve come full-circle back to denial.
Reid Champagne continues to practice his zen-like game, hoping to one day to be struck by lightning.