The best major championship in golf?

US Open: Tour players are seldom embarrassed and I enjoy it when the USGA’s motive over four days is to do just that. A little humility is a good thing especially when you’re driving courtesy cars every week. I find must-make par putts far more interesting than a procession of makable putts for birdie and eagle.

The Open Championship: The R&A doesn’t have the same flair for penal setups as the USGA and their rota is a bit tiring. Still, I love the spectacle, the weather and the galleries. Bring on the wind and rain, preferably both at the same time.

The Masters: As much as I admire Jones, I despise the patrician and elitist nature of AN. But, the back 9 is an amazingly good theater every year. If I had been Rickie Fowler and some AN clown told me to turn my hat around I would have told him to pack sand.

The PGA: The PGA is has no identity. It’s just another event that’s called a major. Many of the courses are ho-hum and so are a lot of the winners. I think they should make it back into a match play event but the potential loss of TV money means that will never happen. They could have two days of stroke play and take the top guys and play 18 hole matches on Saturday and have a 36 hole championship match just to maximize the suffering.

The best major championship in golf?

Is optimism tied to American-style individualism?

A person can be optimistic about a lot of things. A sports fan can be optimistic that their favorite team is going to have a good season. Some people are optimistic about the future. But, does optimism spring more readily from a culture that also values individualism?

This article sets out to show just such a link.

As an aside, I’m always surprised that the Germans are such a dreary lot.

The piece cites a Pew Research Center study of 44 countries that focused on people’s sense of control and also the effect of hard work. The results show that Americans believe both in the ability of the individual to exercise control and also in the value of hard work to affect an outcome.

Seems sensible but, then again, I’m an American.

Our individualized optimism is even set apart among other wealthy nations. Again, what’s Germany’s problem? They build some great cars and have the Autobahn for goodness sake.

I find the study results interesting because I do not find the average American all that optimistic. Instead I see and hear a sense of stuckness from a lot of people. People are questioning the cost and benefit of everything from education to government. Certitude of mission seems in short supply. Not even NASA seems sure of their mission these days.

Still, there’s a kind of resilience alongside the uncertainty, a kind of confidence borne of the unusual alchemy of democracy and individualism. As attitudinally challenged as we are here, I’m glad I’m not in Germany.

Is optimism tied to American-style individualism?

Flow & living as an art

A couple years ago, when I first started to think about optimism I considered the phrase, living is an art.

It seemed like a pretentious notion, perfectly mated to new age sensibilities. As time went on I began to think that even if it did seem pretentious it might very well be true.

The word flow triggers the same response. This article defines flow and describes its eight ingredients:

1 The experience occurs usually when we are involved in tasks that we have a good chance of completing.

2 We are able to concentrate fully on the activity.

3 The task has clear goals.

4 The task is such that it gives us immediate feedback on how well we are doing.

5 Our involvement is “deep but effortless” and this “removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.”

6 There is a sense of exercising control over our actions.

7 Concern for the self disappears but paradoxically our “sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.”

8 We lose our normal sense of time “we can feel either that it has speeded up (and passed quickly) or slowed down.”

Just to show how challenging flow can be when it comes to, oh let’s say, golf and writing consider my take on them respective to those activities:

1 This is a very poor fit. The sense that the task of writing and golf can be completed is completely absent from the experience. There’s always another swing to be made and another word to be chosen.

2 Yes, full concentration on both golf and writing is highly desirable.

3 Yes, the goals are clear (usually).

4 Um, sometimes the task gives immediate feedback and sometimes it doesn’t. I can spend quite a bit of time writing only to realize days later that what I wrote didn’t really work. Similarly, working on golf involves a good bit of sideways and even some backward steps. It’s simply a very hard game and reliable feedback isn’t a constant.

5Effortlessness in golf or writing is both rare and short lived. It does happen, it’s glorious and then it’s gone.

6 Certainly, control over actions is a feature in both golf and writing.

7 The disappearance of the self is a tough one, too.

“Just be the ball.” -Ty Webb in Caddyshack

8 The emergence of the stronger self is true. Success brings confidence. In golf, I can recall certain shots, the way impact felt, the way the ball flew and I can imagine myself doing it again. Good writing, too, breeds an excitement about the next idea, the next event and the next part of a story. Time does speed up when I’m writing, but that’s mostly because I am always putting it between the rock and a hard place of other activities that demand my attention. Golf has an easier time of it; if I’m on the range or the course the nature of time does change.

More flow is a good thing, but it’s not always easy to achieve.

Flow & living as an art

The optimism & gratitude connection

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Cicero

I believe this.

Rarely do any of my borderline-pessimistic friends speak of gratitude. They tend, instead, to repeat narratives about those who have slighted them. Each repetition make the offense new again.

It’s a very bad habit.

The funny thing is that even though I can trend toward pessimism I have feelings of immense gratitude. To start with, I am grateful to God and the fates for living where I do and when. I was never so foolish that my gratitude toward my parents faltered. I know that few parents measure up to mine when it came to love, support and understanding. They were amazing people.

On the other hand, gratitude can bring out something else in me as well. On the other side of gratitude is a fear that even with all of the gifts and benefits I’ve enjoyed, my life’s work may not amount to much. It’s the feeling of knowing you’ve had so much help and good fortune but it still might not be enough. In those sobering moments I am prone to remind myself that Van Gogh sold only one painting, The Red Vineyard, and then died a few months later at the age of 37.

The Red Vineyard

My total writing sales amount to just about what Van Gogh got for his painting and I’m now 53. I say it’s sobering to avoid using the word depressing.

Still, I am glad to have so much gratitude in my heart. I just need to create a technique that allows me to convert feelings of thankfulness into optimistic action, and that’s proven tricky for me so far.

The optimism & gratitude connection