To Play, or to “Groove”

By age 75, you deserve to choose the way you like to play. Younger age groups follow a pack, They play tennis and golf and even bowl in leagues. There are rules for scoring and at those younger ages, scores mean a lot – scores are what you are worth. Average scores are what you are worth on the average. That is why the idea of “personal best” is so important in running and archery and golf when you are young, because if nothing else you are competing against yourself. People even obsess over the number of steps they take each day, recorded on their smartphones.

However, humanity is thankfully more complex than to merely have sports as a surrogate for bloody wars. Long before they are age 75, many many people in lots and lots of sports get their greatest enjoyment from simply “grooving” their strokes or other skills. Fathers and sons don’t have to play baseball together: they spend long hours after dinner just playing “catch” in the back yard. Same with kids tossing the football to each other – one spinning a perfect spiral and the other “running out” for a long over the shoulder catch. Soccer players “juggle” the ball, keeping it in the air for many minutes bouncing it off head and knees and feet in the dance of sport. Basketball players shoot alone for hours, pretending to dodge and cross over dribble and fall away for a jump shot. Many long afternoons of satisfaction pass just “grooving those skills” over and over.

Many tennis players just “hit” for hours, moving to the ball and stroking deep topspin shots, over and over. This not simply practice, this is play, this is thrilling to the perfect “groove” to your performance. Not to say this has no bearing on sports performance…but it is a life apart…and a sweet spot free of the intensity of scoring and the shame of losing.

Some people are happiest if they are keeping score, of course. You will learn to keep score in golf soon enough, and if you go around on short nines or long 18s you will be given a score care to remember how well or poorly you did on each hole. It is important to keep score at times, to know how well you are doing against a standard – par. Scoring in golf is much less one-uping the person beside you and much more in assessing your own status in relation to an abstract standard.

At age 75 you can score for yourself on whatever length course you choose, or score against those you are with. Or you can concentrate on “grooving” your strokes, because of the lovely feeling of hitting a “good ball” with excellent contact and straightness and loft, dropping in right into the fairway or right onto the green. It is not trivial or unrelated that well-grooved strokes, flying to the center of the distant green or dropping just beside the flag on the green, often result in better scoring. However, by the age of 75 that score may not matter so much as the “groove” – feel of a great shot.

I have people now who I golf with who just count pars, or who just try to hit every shot at its best, but do not torment over a given score on a given hole. We go out on these manicured playfields and do our best, every shot, to capture the “groove” the shot that feels right and flies right. In our group of elders, every one watches the other’s shot – not in the least because errant balls get lost – but also to cheer on each others’ best shots. We all know what a good shot looks like. And we still, at our advanced age, want to win…but now it is more to achieve the best possible in ourselves and others who are with us. I think that we have learned with age what play should be about.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

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