Golf and Academics: How I Escaped the Hazard

30 Sep Golf and Academics: How I Escaped the Hazard

Reminiscing on my first season playing golf for the Tufts Jumbos—the great courses I played, the tournament experience I gained, the challenge of staying mentally conditioned for every round—I believe I became a better golfer in a matter of months.

But, for me, my first year of college wasn’t all about spending time on the course, or the practice range, or in the gym. As an academically motivated student and a lifelong learner, I approached college as an opportunity to expand my intellect as well as improve my golf game. I couldn’t sacrifice my academics, the real reason for attending college, but at the same time, I didn’t want to give up the game I had worked so hard at and had spent countless hours dreaming about.

So, I recall, most of all, my struggle and ultimate success in managing academics and golf, a task that befuddled me during the first weeks of the school year.

How was I, a lowly college freshman, supposed to know how to manage my priorities? I couldn’t turn to my high school years, since at the time when my first, and last, high school golf season started, I was able to substitute my classes for an off-campus internship. And I had never been in another situation that remotely resembled the insurmountable task I was undertaking. So, in essence, I was trapped, bunkered in a fried egg lie in the middle of an expanse of overwhelming syllabi and dense textbooks and unnerving golf team tryouts.

I knew I had to set goals for myself—small objectives that I could set in my sights—that melded my two loves of life, learning and golf. Yet, as I was naïve and nervous, I struggled. I had to look somewhere for inspiration. Well, where better to look than in the middle of the very quagmire I was stranded in. And, much like the way a bunker shot requires the use of the sand, the inherent composition of the hazard, I had to use my previous golf experiences to escape.

Once I looked at the dilemma from this angle, escape was easy. In fact, I had been preparing for this moment since my first ever round of golf in August of 2009.

It was a warm summer afternoon when I first set foot on the tee box of my home course’s opening hole, a 389-yard, gentle-dogleg left par 4. With tall, deciduous trees guarding the right side of the fairway and an elevated, sloping green, the first hole isn’t exactly an easy par. So, standing over my brilliantly white golf ball, marked with three royal blue dots, and my humongous, polished driver head, I was thinking about the round ahead. I had no expectations for my score (although I did hope to break 130), yet I was trying to work on the few simple swing keys I had been grooving on the range. Since I had taken a lesson to minimize my embarrassment on the course, I had some idea as to the anatomy of my swing and its biggest flaws. My lucky slice, a name inspired by the lucky bounces I would receive from the right side of the course in subsequent rounds, reared it’s head that day on the first tee. Still, I was prudent before every shot thereafter to realign my grip and shoulders. I knew my priorities and made a point of working towards completing them and building my confidence on the course.

It was later that round when I fell in truly love with golf. My attitude towards golf prior to that round was coy–I was still trying to figure out why I kept wanting to practice and practice. I had played the cello for several years before, yet practice didn’t motivate me the way it did for golf. It was around the middle of the back nine, when I striped a drive down the middle of the 13th hole, I realized, that just weeks earlier, I could not have done that. That just one month before, I could barely get an iron shot off the ground. And that in all my years of whacking a red ball around a mini golf course, I never realized that putting could be quite meditative. It was precisely that moment when I understood that my effort and prioritizing had granted me success. I was giddy. For me, the lure of the golf–the constant presence of an attainable goal–was irresistible.

Fast-forward to the first weeks of my college golf experience. Armed with three years of prioritizing goals on the golf course, I was ready to make the transition. I knew how to break up a practice session, hitting pitch shots to different locations to develop a feel for each shot or striking putts from different distances to build confidence in longer attempts, and could apply it directly to managing school and golf. If I had to study for a test, I would start weeks in advance to ingrain confidence with the material. Likewise, if my coach wanted me to work on staying committed to shots during tournaments, I would devote my valuable range time to exactly that. I knew that juggling both school and golf wouldn’t be easy, but found my own way of handling the stress and turning it into productive energy.

My experience may seem intuitive and my revelations mundane, yet when the hype of freshman year blends with the pressure of performing in school and on the course, the situation becomes just a bit tougher than playing in a junior golf tournament.  I liken it to the difference between a four-foot downhill slider on a Wednesday evening round in April and the same putt on the 18th hole of the club championship with a small gallery watching. In the former, the putt and the pressure were independent of each other; in fact, the only pressure the player probably had during that round was beating the fall of darkness. Yet in the latter, the putt and the pressure are inextricably intertwined; the player has to make the putt to alleviate the pressure, not just slam on the gas pedal.

In managing school and golf, I found it most helpful to stay organized. My meticulously kept calendar was my one of my best friends during my first semester, presenting my daily tasks lists and academic goals. This way, when I was on the golf course, I was, in both body and mind, on the golf course. My mind didn’t have to wander around the material for the test I had the next day, since I had already prepared. And I wasn’t fatigued; my lack of cramming gave me ample time to sleep.

The great Ben Hogan once said, “As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.” For me, right now, the fairway of life is lush with opportunity. College golf is the next step in my golf adventure. And learning how to pair golf with academics is only one of the many improbable situations, or lies, I’ll face. Maybe putting in the effort to escape them is equally as important as emerging successfully. But then again, holing out from a buried lie is pretty great feeling.

Nick Dorian

Round the Clock Golf