Update #8: Golf and the two wise men

Friday, October 2nd, 2020

Shane here again.

As part of the “build in public” model, I p̶r̶o̶m̶i̶s̶e̶ promised to send a Friday note to everyone who signs up for the Magnificent Irrelevance email list.

Golf and the two wise men

Last week I ran out of gas.

The previous two Friday updates had gone out at 11.52pm and 11.58pm, and some crazy part of me took some sort of perverse pleasure in ticking the box — “Send an update every Friday” — even if it was in the shadow of midnight.

Last week, though, when Friday came I was on Day 3 of a pretty serious episode of burn-out.

I was flat-lining, the outcome of a few months of work that hasn’t exactly been hard — I recently read a little about George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, and the miles-long underground tunnel crawls the coal-miners had to undertake before and after every routine workday.

Perspective is good. My work, at a desk in a warm room, ten steps from the kitchen and the kettle and with headphones in and an unlimited selection of music to accompany the work tasks throughout the day, is nowhere near the coalface.

But the past few weeks, coming on the back of the past few months, the energy reserves were cut to zero.

It’s interesting the way these things happen: one thing, and then another, and then another, and everything compounds and suddenly you’re asleep in bed at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon.

Golf, strangely, has helped me to recharge.

I say strangely, because I’ve never been much of a golfer.

I was a juvenile member of a club 30-odd years ago, but I remember one of my peers, who even then had laser-focused ambition to become a pro, laughing at my four five-woods to navigate tee to green at one of the par fives, and sensitive little 13-year-old me decided he didn’t need that sort of thing in his life.

In the intervening decades, I’ve played roughly at a frequency of once every four or five years. An occasional fundraiser, or an invitation from someone with a spark of an idea and a few hours to kill.

Recently, an offer came from a man who’s almost 80 and feeling the effects both of Parkinson’s Disease and a stroke not that long ago, but who still manages to play two or three times a week courtesy of a petrol-engine buggy that carries his now ailing body around the course.

I’ve played with him now three times in the past 10 days or so, and he’s been giving me sage and welcome advice on tee height and ball position and swing speed and the vital importance of a good follow-through.

There’s a semi-long par four on the course we play, and the third time I played it, I made it to the fringe of the green with a dinging driver and a near-perfect (for me, at least) 5-wood from the first cut of rough.

Those three long walks, in the company of my a couple of men, including my new golf adviser, who seems intent on generously bequeathing to the next generation his knowledge and his love of the game and even his clubs — I’m already on my second donated driver — has brought new life into my lungs and my limbs.

When you’re self-employed and make a precarious living, there are persistent voices in your head when you find yourself on a golf course at 2 o’clock on a weekday afternoon, as I discovered last Tuesday. But whatever I might have achieved had I spent those three or four hours at my desk, I was given something altogether more timeless and priceless out on the course.

I even had a couple of birdie chances.

The putts went close but didn’t drop.

One day soon one of them might, especially if the old sage is still there with me, dispensing the soft advice that I’m trying to make stick.

While I’ve never been much of a golfer, I’ve always been a pro golf watcher.

Masters weekend is one of my favourite weekends of the year — in normal years, at any rate. It takes place in early April, when the sun is getting warmer and six months of darker, colder days are coming to an end, and the pristine azaleas around Amen Corner blaze from the TV screen in a perfect alloy of history and myth and mysticism.

Where Augusta is all tradition and beauty and prim propriety, Ryder Cup week brings a terrace atmosphere to golf once every two years. When I was 11 I was quietly cheering for the USA (Freddie Couples was one of my heroes), but was won over by Christy O’Connor’s 2-iron from the 18th fairway at the Belfry, and since then I’ve made a date with myself and the couch and a locked room for 72 hours in September every couple of years.

(The reasons the Ryder Cup is so important to me are clear only now, with the benefit of decades of hindsight. I can take or leave the partisanship from the grandstands, but the psychological effect on the players makes it compelling. Golf is typically solo and selfish. At the Ryder Cup, the unfamiliar pressure that the notion of teamwork and consequences places on the players is almost visible. Unheralded players, given their 15 minutes in the sun, often rise to the challenge; multi-million-earning superstars regularly crumble.)

The mythic, mystic nature of golf is apparent in an old, second-hand but in-perfect-condition package that arrived from Thrift Books through my letter-box recently.

Golf in the Kingdom was written by Michael Murphy in 1972. “It came like a flood,” he said in an interview with Golf.com not long ago. “Norman Mailer said every writer gets one book that is a gift from God. Golf in the Kingdom was mine.”

Murphy is credited as one of those enlightened folk who brought Eastern wisdom to Western thought. He co-founded the Esalen Institute, which has been engaged in what it calls as an “Olympics of the mind, heart, body, spirit, and community”, seeing almost a million people through its place in Big Sur over the past half century.

Golf in the Kingdom is injected with an otherworldliness that’s impossible to describe. It’s said that it’s a novel, but the book’s narrator is Michael Murphy, stopping off for golf in Scotland en route to India and the search for spiritual knowledge, as Murphy did in the mid-1950s, and playing the magical links at Burningbush in the company of Shivas Irons, the book’s wizarding central character.

Part novel, part memoir, part theory, and part philosophical discussion. It’s all that and it’s also fully soul-searching sportswriting, the sourcing, publication and promotion of which is the long-term aim and objective of this project.

Wikipedia says that the author turned 90 last month. Happy birthday, Mr Murphy. Your book arrived with me around about the time you were blowing out those 90 candles.

Project Development Update

Precious little to see here.

I’ve managed no new sign-ups, and no promotion, and little in the way of planning how to get this up and running.

I can chastise myself for that, and try to try harder, or I can let the ebb and flow come and go and see where it goes.

This venture is never likely to be a hyper-growth startup.

If it somehow goes on fire, it’s likely to be a slow burn. Let’s see what happens.


That’s all for this Magnificent Irrelevance build in public weekly update.

If you’d like to receive these updates e̶a̶c̶h̶  most Fridays by email, make sure to sign up here.

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