Etiquette–Doing is Being

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When my son turned 8, we enrolled him in an etiquette course at our country club. He was one of only two boys in that class, which had four times as many girls. Etiquette is as popular among boys, it seems, as ballet or gymnastics. So how is it that we teach our children, especially our boys, manners? In my experience in the Midwestern suburbs, for the presumptive future alpha males, it is through football that parents teach their boys how to behave in society.

The cult of football, which recently took a hit in the Penn State scandal, is very much the secular religion in the US, and its principles of individual sacrifice, self improvement, and group effort are laudable. The American ideals are poured into the public ethos of football. Much of America’s recent history can be viewed in a football context, explained in football metaphor, and historical events remembered like games and seasons. If you are a space alien needing education in American culture, you need only to review the past five Super Bowls’ worth of half-time shows and commercials. Football is America’s vernacular.

In watching an etiquette class, I realized that the forms and routines –how a table is laid out, how you approach the chair, which side the drinks are, which side is the meal served, what the utensils are for, etc., create the physical input to dial in behavior and ultimately etiquette. Dressing and behaving like a gentleman makes you a gentle man. Let me explain. The mind can be changed based on what you do physically. It has been shown that simply smiling increases the dopamine levels and changes your brain patterns to one that matches happiness. Yes. Smiling can make you happy.

The mind can be changed based on what you do physically… Smiling can make you happy.

Martial arts like Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu focus a lot on forms –series of rote maneuvers that are memorized which to me as a student seemed tedious but retrospect have the effect of shaping the mind. Focusing on the forms of courtesy eventually makes you courteous. So where does football and football parenting leave us?

As far as I can tell, it teaches impressionable young boys how to dominate the weak. It confuses narcissism as self-esteem. By its nature, football cannot teach empathy, courtesy, or thoughtfulness. There is nothing wrong with this if your goals for a society are to create a core group of warrior that will fight wars, conquer nations, and pull down an eight figure salary in free agency. The unintended side effect is that you readily miss the opportunity to prevent the development of psychopathic bullies and date rapists. You only have to watch parents at football practice to understand why this is so. It is why figures like Tim Tebow are such an anomaly not only because he seems to outwardly practice courtesy, respect, and reverence. It is why Penn State was allowed to happen, because football is more important that a few little boys.

If you want to teach your child how to compete while being civilized, you can try etiquette lessons, but more practically, you can do no better than golf. The first section of the USGA Rules of Golf is focused on etiquette, but in fact, you teach your child important lessons by having them accompany you for a round on the cart. You learn to wait your turn staying respectfully silent. You learn to be timely and considerate of others in your group and in the groups ahead and behind you. You learn to be honest and to be your own referee. You learn to impose penalties on yourself for transgressions and be transparent about it. You learn to post your scores (like submitting tax returns when running for president). You learn to behave in a way that would make you proud and not ashamed.

As a nation, we need more mediocre golfers than we do washed out football players. We will be far better off for it.

More Golf Transparency -I really suck at golf, except when I don’t

scoreI played a speed 9 today after work and before dinner. Some people love to go to the gym and get on the treadmill for an hour. I prefer to play a quick nine. After my recording a 76, a score lowered by the format of the tournament, but listed on GHIN for the sake of completeness, I played today and had a reasonable round of golf -more in line with how I usually play.

I hooked my first drive into the woods. I spent about 15 minutes looking for it, and found it. It’s a luxury to play with nobody behind you, and in finding the ball, I didn’t have to go back and hit another one. I hid a beautiful fading 7 iron over an obstructing oak tree back onto the fairway, and fluffed my pitch, with a subsequent long and short putt, I made double, which on #1 is a common score even when you’re on the fairway. #2 was fired with the 10mph right to left wind -I shot a perfect fade which straightened out, but was short because of how high I hit it. I pitched short, but made a remarkable 15 footer for par.

#3 was a bogey of not much note -I missed a 5 footer for a par save. #4 was a great sand save, with an up and down for par. On #5, the trouble began. I couldn’t hit an approach shot for anything and ended with a triple. #6, I hooked OB and struggled to get a triple. #7, lost ball and a triple. #8, OB left and subsequent triple.

The stretch of four triple bogeys gave me some perspective. I was swinging away without much purpose, and the purpose of the game is to make physical a mental and even spiritual plan of action. Keeping my thoughts in the moment, I had the same hard 10mph wind now left to right and slightly from behind. I took a 6 iron and played my natural draw. It almost hit the flagstick and landed 15 feet behind. I visualized the line and executed -dropping the putt for birdie.

This game is at first a purely physical one for the 90+ shooter. In the 80’s, it is a game of processes -pars and bogeys. To get the the 70’s and closer and even under par, you have to get spiritual.

I left #9 thinking I could reel off five or six more birdies. I was quite sure of it, but didn’t feel overly pressured to do it. I went home for dinner. Not all that unhappy about my 4 triple bogeys, but contemplative about my one birdie.

Addendum: By slowing down my swing over the weekend,  I managed to hit over 70% of my fairways, and reach 60% of the greens, but was troubled by putting -this was because the Stimp meter was running out at close to 12 feet! At Oakmont speeds, I was rolling the ball over the holes or lipping out. Earlier this week, after work, I played after the greens were a more manageable 10.5 feet on the Stimp, and I shot a 41 and 47 for an 88 -the back nine was done in a rush and I had three triple bogies due to errant tee shots. Slowing down the game, visualizing -trying to see the ball lying in the grass, the terrain, the sky, the wind, the trees, the green, and above all the target, really does pay off.

Also, my putting improved after copying Wie’s putting changes -hand press forward, no slap, athletic spine posture.

Golf Transparency -what to do with the 76?

scorecard818Submitted for you consideration is a recent quick nine holes played yesterday evening. Though not as dramatic as my recent 76, it does show an important trend for me -that I’m putting better and I am hitting some very nice approaches. Number 7 was a bogey that shouldn’t have been -I drove right, topped an intended punch in to the fairway bunker  138 yards out, and landed an 8 iron to 6 feet -missed par by millimeters. Felt very comfortable in my skin throughout -even after the topped punch -I breathed and moved on. In retrospect, I had no business trying to fade punch out of deep rough.

I thought about the 76 and whether to submit it to GHIN. I think because of the format, it basically takes 12 strokes off your likely score. 88 is definitely in my wheelhouse. But in fairness, I certainly don’t feel like a 22 handicapper, and think my game has turned around. So is GHIN something you gin up, something to spin to an “appropriate” level?

I think you just have to report everything, unedited. The Handicap is designed to reflect your average, but also your potential. I know my potential is there from where I’ve been and where I want to go. There is nothing to gin up -you report your score. That is golf transparency.

Here it is:

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Golf Transparency -mid summer slump and the HAC Qualifier

handicapHave been playing crappy this summer except for a bright round of 91 at the Legacy in 15 mph winds with my neighbors. My index drifted up to 18 which is where I was last year after dipping to a low of 16.5.

I believe I am playing injured -my left hand knuckles are sore and the right wrist is tender and will have to dial back my swing. I believe it is a consequence of not playing enough golf.

The HAC qualifier was a lot of fun and I look forward to the HAC Open.