The Ten-Round Rule

By Adam BarrNovember 24, 2007, 5:00 pm
Tryptophan, that chemical compound in turkey that is supposed to make you sleepy, just makes me confessional. So. [huff] Here goes.
Iumhave a bit of atemper on the golf course. I have been known togrind my teeth. Utter unsavory expressions. I have evenhelicoptered a few. O.K., more than a few, and more than a few feet. You know those big Sikorsky jobs that lift, like, tanks and other mammoth things?
Yeah. Like that. Not many people have seen this side of me. Playing golf with people in the industry, or with GOLF CHANNEL friends, or anywhere I could be seen by anyone outside my family and a few very close friends, I cant afford to lose control. Bad for the image: not just mine, but TGCs. So through strength of will, I have not chewed through any golf cart parts after shanking a simple wedge shot in such games.
But my wife and those few very close friends have seen me getannoyed. How annoyed? Once we began a game, and my wife filled in the scorecard lines. It took me five holes to see she had written Dr. Jekyll where my name was supposed to be.
Well, more accurately, my inner circle used to see this in me. I think I have found a solution. (As a matter of fact, Im pretty sure I have. Im just equivocating to avoid fatal hubris.)
I have discovered that you can change just about anything in your golf persona ' if you just give it ten rounds.
Huh? I hear you saying, and not without some merit: Barr, tryptophan obviously suppresses your already questionable judgment as well. Do you mean to say you can cure me of three-putting or coming over the top in the space of ten rounds of golf? Ive been fighting those demons since God was in knee pants.
No, that kind of thing is a job for your PGA professional. What Im talking about is the kind of behavior, usually mental, that leads you to lose control of your mood, your psyche, your noodle, your headspace (for you West Hollywood types). Heres how it happened for me.
I was playing alone late one afternoon, trying to squeeze in a round between work and sunset, and I had come to our clubs sadistic 15th hole. Its a short par 5 with a difficult, no-driver tee shot to a landing area narrower than your Dads mind when you were a teenager. Then there are two massive oaks in the fairway (the %&*$% FAIRWAY!) about 110 yards from an elevated, protected green. Ive seen grown men ungrow pretty rapidly on this hole.
Long story short: I yanked my third shot into the cow pasture back left of the green, and went aggrieved-mail-sorter: I launched my wedge way up high over the LZ.
Now, I had done this many times before. But as I stood there, feeling ashen inside (notice that the wedge flight had made me feel worse, not better), I spoke to myself. Self, I said, First of all, we have to get you a better name than Self. Second, and more important, Im 46 years old, and I hate this about you. This has got to stop. We have to find a way to make it stop.
Yes, and you have a son, Self said, scooping salt into the wound in my psyche. Do you want him to see this kind of behavior? I finished the hole, took the double-digit score (Ill be damned if Ill let anger talk me into the weakness of cheating), and played the final three holes on automatic. I was busy thinking of how to manage this problem. As I putted out on 18, I came up with it.
Ten rounds.
For ten rounds, I would not allow myself to demonstrate anger in any way. Sure, I could be angry. Its impossible to forestall the mental condition known as anger, which rises from frustration and manifests itself in physical effects such as increased pulse rate, muscle tightness, even blurred vision. Anger is a fact of life and a fact of golf. But whatever the impulse, I would beat it back. If I was pissed off, no one would know it from anything I did or said.
And there was one big, fat kicker: If, in those ten rounds, I failed even once to control the physical manifestations of my anger (tossing a club, slamming a club, throwing a ball, cussing, whatever it might be) ' I would have go back to the beginning and start all over again.
I went home, made a drink, and sunk into the big chair in my home office. I was scared. Could I do this? But then I figured, if I was to have any kind of future enjoyment of golf, I had to.
Think about it ' we all have on-course behaviors that we wish we didnt. They may not be as bad as violent, red-seeing anger. But theyre there. Bad self-talk. Defeatism. Even fear. Speeding up our pace and careening into a gyre of foolish mistakes when things go wrong. Its the rare person who cares so little about his golf performance that he can be completely happy-go-lucky about the difficulty and randomness of the game. People who profess to be this way, or who actually seem to be, make me suspicious. I wonder how they treat their families once they get home.
Thats the kernel of the problem, though. If you play golf and play avidly, its because you care about how well you do, at least on some level. To deny this is to deny the obvious attractiveness of golfs challenge. You may never get a lot better on the scorecard, but you want to get better than you were. Even if youre one of those recreational players who just likes to hit solid shots, score notwithstanding, you have set yourself a personal performance benchmark. When you fall short, whatever your golf goal, your innate humanity makes it impossible to carelessly laugh it off every time.
So anger and other negative feelings are inevitable. You have to find strategies to fight them off, or you might as well quit the game. And quitting is unacceptable.
So I got down to it. It was hard. I remember vividly, somewhere about Round 4, wanting to slam the pin back into its socket in the cup after three-putting. But I didnt. I did not want to fail, did not want to start over. I took a deep breath. I managed. I went on.
And you know what? There was a reward. I dont think I got angry any less often. But my efforts at control made my anger dissipate more quickly, and I could go on with my round with more enjoyment. It was like looking in the mirror after six weeks of workouts and seeing a little definition in your biceps. Suddenly, there was success. And success breeds more of the same.
About Round 7, I knew I would make it. And I did. Never had to start over. I felt like I was on the way to putting golf in proper perspective ' not caring any less, not trying any less ' just ranking it where it needed to be, behind God, family, friends, and many other blessings. And now, after the ten rounds, I find I have a lot less impulse to fling a club or swear than I did before the experiment. I know how it feels, and I dont want to feel that way.
Sound cornier than Iowa? Yeah, maybe so. But its true. And if I can do it, so can just about anyone else. Theres another reward, too. Using the Ten-Round Rule makes you want to try it on other things. For instance, Im trying to have ten rounds without negative self-talk. None of this lining up a downhill, right-breaking 10-footer while saying to myself, Darn. I never make these. No talking myself out of success before even taking back the club.
I gotta tell you, this is a lot harder. I have had start over a couple of times now. But I wont quit. Its worth it. And I know one thing. I wont get angry.
Not that youll be able to see, anyway.

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