• Alistair Tait

Can literature improve your golf?


A wee internet search of the life and times of Saul Bellow doesn’t unearth any predilection for golf. Same goes for John Banville, Terry Pratchett, Annie Proulx, Alan Bennett and Kinky Freedman.


I think reading and applying their wit and imagination to this frustrating game might help those of us who suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous shanks, hooks, slices, tops, duffs, three putts, double bogeys and other golfing nightmares more than investing in any number of tomes that tell us how to correct all the above. Or even more productive than spending countless hours on You Tube watching gurus who promise to make us better players.


Maybe a wee bit of literature and the words of many great writers might be better for our top players too than running to a new coach or employing the help of a sports psychologist.


I may be a wee bit old fashioned since I keep a wee book in which I write down quotes that jump out at me. Not quite a Little Red Book, more a wee maroon manuscript six inches tall and four inches wide.


The latest quote I wrote down comes from Bellow. Hence his top billing. In Seize the Day, Bellow has a line that reads:

“You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering from the mistakes of your first half.”

How many players have been enticed down a path only to realise it led nowhere and had to change course to get their careers back on track? The game is littered with once promising players who made the wrong decisions early on and never recovered.


John Banville writes in The Sea:

“The past, the real past, matters less than we pretend.”

As we know, just because a player has won a major, or majors, is no guarantee she or he will do so again. And just because we once played to a 7.5 handicap doesn’t mean we’ll ever get back to that figure. Sigh…..


So many golf coaches can relate to Kinky Friedman when he says:

“You come to see what you want to see, but you never come to know.”

I’ve got golf club professional friends who understand where the American wordsmith/entertainer is coming from. Must be a lot of fun when students turn up with self-precribed cures for their faults and tell the professional what they should be doing, instead of listening to the professional's wise words of wisdom.


Pratchett could have had Rory McIlroy’s current travails in mind when he wrote:

“There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons teach small children this.”

McIlroy might have been a force in the Masters rather than missing his first cut since 2010 if he had hung on to his old swing rather than trying to emulate Bryson DeChambeau’s “smash it to hell and gone” technique. Let’s hope the balloon is still within McIlroy’s reach.


Proulx’s short stories are full of wee nuggets that make you stop and think. Here’s one that applies to Hideki Matsuyama’s recent Masters win:

“In every life there are events that shape one’s sense of existence.”

Rest assured Matsuyama’s win will shape his sense of existence until he goes to that great clubhouse in the sky. Ditto for every other player who wins their first major championship.


Mind you, Bennett speaks for the Xander Schauffeles of this world, the Colin Montgomeries, Lee Westwoods and other players who do not have their names on major trophies when he pens the words:

“It’s not the things you do that you regret in later life, it’s the things you don’t do.”

Hopefully Schauffele's regrets at not hitting the 16th green in the final round of the Masters won’t last too long. A green jacket somewhere down the line will help ease the pain of rinsing his ball in the pond to the left of the green.


How many times does Monty regret not hitting the final green in the 2006 U.S. Open? Or Westwood three putting the 72nd hole in the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. I.K. Kim’s wee miss on the final green in the 2012 ANA Inspiration? Craig Stadler’s 18 incher at The Belfry in the 1985 Ryder Cup? The list is endless.


Of course, the above sayings don’t just apply to the professional game. To us too. The giants of literature can teach us a wee thing or six about this wonderful game. And at least if their words don’t make us better players, they'll teach us much about life.


#JustSaying: “To be disciplined from within, where all is permissible, where all is concealed – that is the point.” Montaigne

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