Lessons About Life I Learned By Playing Golf With My Father

How Parents Teach

My father passed away in March at the age of 91. He lived a full and active life.┬áThat’s him bicycling with his grandchildren when he was in his early 80s.

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We held his memorial service in July so all family members could attend. Everyone took a moment during the weekend to say something about their life with him. My moment focused on our time spent playing golf together, which we did a lot over the years.

The Five Lessons

Here’s what Father taught me about life while playing golf.

1. Always tee the ball up. There is no requirement to tee the ball up in golf. However, it does make hitting it easier. When I was younger (and “cooler”), I would toss my ball down on the ground at short holes and swing away. Father advised me to “always tee the ball up.”

  • Life Lesson: Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. You never know if it’s going to make a difference, but it might.

2. Club down until you’re hitting well again. The longer the golf club, the harder it is to hit. Confidence follows ball striking – good and bad – and confidence is a big part of golf. Father believed in “clubbing down until you’re hitting well again.”

  • Life Lesson. When things aren’t going well, move to a comfort zone and rebuild your confidence.

3. Putt to the apple basket. Putting seems so simple. Just hit the the ball into the hole over there. The problem is the hole is really small – about four inches in diameter. Putting from any further away than a couple of feet can be daunting. To make long putts easier, Father instructed me to “putt to the apple basket.” The imaginary apple basket is a much bigger target. The next putt is easier once the ball is inside that distance.

  • Life Lesson. The goal is to succeed; not always to score. The apple basket created a higher likelihood of success because the second putt was easier.

4. Fix your divot, plus one more. Golf is hard on grass. Clubs take divots on fairways and balls make divots on greens. Playing golf with Father always meant fixing the divot you made, then fixing one someone else didn’t.

  • Life Lesson. Make it better for the people who follow you. Playing golf is an etiquette-rich sport. Life should be equally etiquette-rich.

5. Carry, push, ride – in that order. Golfers choose how to get around the course. There’s walking and carrying the clubs, walking and pushing the clubs, and riding on a power cart with the clubs on the back. Father played golf in that order as he aged – carried, pushed, rode.

  • Life Lesson. Do what you love any way you can. Our abilities diminish as we get older. That does not mean we have to stop doing the things we love. It only means we have to find new ways of doing them. Father was 88 the last time we played golf together. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed our ride around the course.


The Measure of a Life

My brother spoke at the end of our family dinner. He quoted Corrie Ten Boom. “The measure of a life is not it’s duration, but it’s donation.” Father’s donation to me was teaching me a sport I will play my whole life and how to learn about life through that sport.

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