Thursday, June 14, 2018

Life Lessons from Whistling Straits

The French existentialist Albert Camus once wrote, "Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe to football." I won't disagree, but rather, amend. Everything I know about morality and the obligations of women, I owe to golf." My recent travels to Kohler, Wisconsin with the Women's Golf Network of the Olympic Club in San Francisco affirmed this claim.
Kohler, WI is a company owned town, nestled but three miles from Sheboygan (is that not a great name or what?), along the shores of Lake Michigan. "Destination Kohler" is home to the original Kohler factory as well as a golf resort, inclusive of four magnificent courses: Blackwolf Run: River and Valleys as well as Whistling Straits: Irish and the Straits. I was familiar only with the Straits course as it hosted the 2015 PGA Championship. The majesty of that day is etched in my memory as Jordan Speith and Jason Day battled it for 71 holes until Day emerged victoriously on the 72nd hole (I wrote about it here). The setting, the backdrop, the terrain and the challenge were unforgettable. To encounter what I had seen on television, to walk the same links, the undertake the same challenges reminded me of not only how golf can get a great teacher, but why it's a good one for me....and I think the other 15 women in my group. Here are but a few examples.

With a name like Stricherz: Golf etiquette never fails to default to the formal. Therefore, when a golfer introduces him or herself, one is expected to shake hands and offer their first and last name. Though I genuinely like my surname (or rather, I like Anne Stricherz together) much of the time it's a liability. People butcher it left and right. They don't grasp that the "ch" is a "k" sound or I think they see the "z" and freak out...that is unless you're in Wisconsin. 
The Badger State has a native son in PGA professional Steve Stricker. Though the spelling and the pronunciation of our surnames are slightly different, everywhere I went, my name was said with ease. I got a lot of smiles. I was asked if we are related (no). Folks thought I was better than I am (I wish!), all because of the name. 

Life lesson: What can sometimes be a burden, can also be a blessing. 

Joy: I made the mistake of reading a great article before my round on the Straits. "Finding the Joy Amongst Us" is written by my dear friend, Scott Santarosa, SJ; he is the Provincial of Jesuits West.

In his piece, a letter he reflects upon the five years of Pope Francis' ministry. He writes
"One of his points that will always stay with me is his strong insistence that we beg God for consolation and that we Jesuits truly be joyful in our ministries. He told us that joy is "constituitive" of the Gospel, and that we "cannot deliver good news with a sullen face." When one of my Jesuit brothers at the Congregation went to greet Pope Francis and he was not smiling, Pope Francis looked at him and said, "Smile!" He did. Pope Francis happily said, "that's better!" Joy is a clear indicator of grace: it indicated that love is active, operative and present. May we all be joyful!"
His message gave me pause to consider: Do I teach with joy? Do I bring joy to the golf course with my team? I appreciated the Holy Father's words because they are so practical, and joy can sometimes feel a bit elusive. I started to wonder, I know I laugh with my students, but do I smile at them? or with them? Do I smile at my golfers when we are warming up, on the range, in the van, etc?
A lot of joy and laughs at this moment....her ball hit the rock in the creek and jumped on the fairway!
Perhaps these questions and inner-monologue explain why I played a terrible round of golf—my thoughts were elsewhere. The introspection ran deep and it wasn't about technique or ball placement. No, eventually I reflected on what it might look like to play golf with joy. Is that possible? Good, bad, or otherwise, I found an answer. 

The course and the conditions this day were remarkably challenging. No golf gods were smiling. No luck was to be found. At first, I was upset (see next point) until I realized I wasn't alone. The three other women in my foursome were getting bad breaks as well. I don't think a hole went by that we didn't say "Oh no!" either about ourselves or one another. 

We sludged through. We shook our heads. We couldn't even say 'it's so bad, it's good." Instead—ironically—we laughed and...we smiled. We found joy or joy found us. I'm so glad we did. We walked off the course feeling much lighter than our scorecards would lead you to believe.

Life Lesson: Seek joy, especially when things are tough. It might find you.

Table Topics: While gathered for our awards dinner, a WGN member shared a deck of cards that serve as conversation starters, entitled, Table Topics: Golf. Everyone at the table was invited to answer the question on the card and did!

Though the women in this group are different—we are single and married, we vary in age, many are moms and many are not. Most work, some are retired. We hail from a variety of places but we come together and travel well—and all for golf. To discuss the game we love is both easy and fun. 
Several of the questions were what you might expect: Who would play in your ideal foursome? If you could live on one golf course, what would it be? and What can you learn about another person from golf? I suppose this question was framed in this way because golf does reveal so much about a person. In the time it takes to play 18 holes, you can see the best and worst and/or the strengths and weaknesses in your playing partners. Are they helpful? Gracious? Do they have a good sense of others around them? Do they make the course better or worse for having been there? The list could go on, but that feels pedantic to I punted. 

I asked to reframe the question in a way that might be more challenging, but also more important. I asked: What have you learned about yourself playing golf? Self-knowledge isn't easy to acquire, but it's important. We are the ones who play the game with ourselves, every time. At the end of the day, we keep our scorecards, we listen to our own self-talk and we determine if the round was a good one or not.

Life Lesson: With every question comes the opportunity to discuss and share it in another way. Not only does our answer to a question reveal who we are, but so does how we ask it.

Oh, the Places You'll Go...What might have been the highlight of the trip for me actually had nothing to do with golf. However, because of this game, I was able to travel to Kohler, WI and meet Lowell, our tour guide of the Kohler factory. Lowell grew up on a Wisconsin farm and got a job as a grinder at the age of 18. He worked in the factory for 44 years. Upon retirement, he took a position as a tour guide, which he has done for the past 18 years. Lowell is 80 years of age, energetic, vibrant and extremely knowledgeable.
To me, Lowell represents the greatness of what this country is about, or at least has been and can be. His strong work ethic was met by good work. He earned a good living and was proud of both the company he worked for and what his work helped to build. 

In our tour, I noticed that Lowell treated everyone he met with good cheer and respect. He was as proud to tell us about the fruits of his own labor, as a grinder, as he was to point out the art that has been commissioned by Kohler. Progressive in his thinking, he is glad to see the use of robots and the roles the worker has over it all. He is still married to the same woman he met in high school and wed at the age of 18. My biggest regret from this trip is that I didn't get a photograph with him. I so want to believe in this country of ours; meeting folks like Lowell reminded me I have had a reason to....

Life Lesson: People sometimes reduce golf to a silly game. "Why spend all that time chasing around a little white ball." I can only think of the experiences I have had and the people I have met because of this game and I know it remains a wonderful teacher—morality, obligations and all.
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1 comment:

  1. What a great post. You have articulated so well some of the things we like best about the game.