Embrace the Challenge

Sean’s friend Robert Leist (from Institute) attempts to get out of the fescue at Erin Hills, where he is currently an intern.

What is life, if not a challenge. This is one quote that I tell people all the time. It arrives mostly in moments when others are nervous, and apprehension masks their normal confidence.

I’ve never used the quote on a golf course, which doesn’t make much sense. I golf a lot; I use the quote a lot; naturally the two would intersect. They finally did last Sunday.

A friend presented me the greatest offer of my young golf life. The text read something like ‘Can you bring your sticks to Erin Hills within the next few days?’ For most golfers, the offer would have been received with an enthusiastic “Yes!” However, the offer arrived Saturday evening, shortly after Saturday afternoon’s back nine at University Ridge had left a sour taste in my golf mouth.

A similar performance at the prestigious, yet problematic, Erin Hills would leave me wondering if a return to any golf course was worth it. The timing wasn’t right. Maybe the offer could be extended to another Sunday.

The fact that I was deliberating could cause many readers to scratch their heads, but finally, I thought to myself, “what is golf, if not a challenge.” The sport has always been my greatest challenge, so why would this be anything different. I reminded myself that it’s a rare honor to play a course like Erin Hills — site of the 2017 U.S. Open — regardless of how many balls you surrender to the fescue.

I found the fairway off the first tee. I made pars, a birdie, bogeys, double bogeys, triple bogeys. I played one hole from the furthest tees, a 675-yard behemoth, hitting a couple perfect shots and still not reaching the green in regulation. I did it all with the strength of my calves, my bag on my back and most of the time, a smile on my face. I love golf because it was a challenge.

This challenge, its simplest form, requires hitting a tee shot, an approach shot and a putt, and hopefully doing so according to par. Easy enough. However, golf should never be a comfortable thing. It should always be a challenge.

After all, it’s played wearing funky spikes on our feet, oddly angled instruments in our hands and rule-abiding clothes on our bodies. There’s nothing comfortable about that. In sum, it’s a challenge, and backing down from the challenge of golf is doing a disservice to the worldly sport.

Playing the same course, week-after-week, refusing to stray from the same track – this is backing down from golf’s challenge. Playing in leisure, refusing to keep score – this is backing down from golf’s challenge.

Don’t back down from the challenge. Embrace it, even if you shoot 91 at Erin Hills.