Golf and Marriage

September 10, 2007

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

In the 60s, without instant reply, TiVo and DVDs, my Dad had to closely follow the newspaper schedule and spend his day in front of our 12-inch black-and-white television through 18 holes in order to witness the dramatic finish of the 1962 U. S. Open when Jack Nicklaus won his first professional title in a playoff with Arnold Palmer.  What a waste of a good day, I thought.

I never understood the lure of golf.  People walking over short grass, swinging sticks at little balls…walking and swinging, over and over, for years.  Even Tiger Woods could not rally my interest in the game.

This was before I learned that grass is never just grass.  Like snow for Eskimos, it comes in thousands of degrees of variation, its length, humidity, and density confounding the roll of well-hit balls.  After one day of instruction about the complexities of golf, enthusiastically taught by our son-in-law as we watched the Wachovia Championship, I’m hooked.

With my new understanding, a lifetime seems too short to learn how to perfect every aspect of what can go wrong with one’s golf game…the stance, the swing, the grip of the club, the follow-through of the swing…not to mention the mental strength needed to handle the pressure when your shot hits the trees, the sand, the water, the rough…and the periodic spectator.

As we watched Woods struggle through the U.S. Open, I saw the endless challenges posed by the lie of the green…the impact of grass mown tight to the ground and covered with morning dew on a downhill slope just beyond the aimed for hole.

Tiger struggled.  I wanted him to win.  But he failed to catch Angel Cabrera and came in a frustrating second.  Better, though, than his subsequent games at Bethesda and the British open where he finished 6th and 12th.

Woods is good enough to win any golf game he plays.  But not every golf game.  He is good.  But he’s not perfect.

Golf…and marriage.  In the first instance, a golf game gone sour provides motivation for the player to isolate his problem and work to remedy it.  There are golf clinics, DVDs, books, pros, and practice ranges all dedicated to making your game the best it can be.

In the second instance, a marriage gone sour can be turned around by a couple motivated to isolate their problems and work toward a solution.  Yet, how often, in our modern world, is a no-fault divorce offered as a solution to couples who struggle? Instead of fixing a marriage, we dissolve the marriage…we quit the game.

Thankfully, an emerging movement is coming forward to turn the divorce trend in favor of repairing relationships and restoring healthy marriages.  In 1999, Oklahoma launched the Marriage Initiative to reduce the divorce rate in their state.  This Oklahoma initiative is joined by the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative which funds programs around the country to strengthen and save marriages.

Critics of marriage education would have us believe that bad marriages are a lost cause.  They raise the specter of abuse, suggesting that fixing a troubled marriage results in more battered wives.  They ignore important realities.

Relationships have much in common with golf games.  No two are the same…and in one marriage, no two days are the same.  No marriage is perfect.  But on a good day, in a good game, there is nothing that can beat winning at golf and succeeding in marriage.

Marriages, like golf games, can improve.  Researcher Linda J. Waite interviewed couples and asked them to rate their marriages from one to seven, on a scale from “just awful” to “fabulous.”  Five years after her first survey, she returned to the same couples with the same question.  Of the couples who first rated their marriage as “awful,” eighty-seven percent of the same couples said their marriages were either “pretty good” or “very good,” sixes and sevens on her scale.

Waite summarized her findings, “Most of the marriages that were bad became much better. I think in a lot of cases when marriages are unhappy it’s sort of a bad patch, and it doesn’t last. One reason divorce is relatively high in our society is because now either person can leave, and we are more willing to leave than we used to be if we hit a bad patch. We’re less likely to work it through. But there’s evidence that dramatic turnarounds are commonplace. They’re the typical experience.”

In the words of marriage Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, “Love, by itself, is not enough to sustain even the most loving couple — at least the kind of love Hollywood pumps into our culture is not enough. Marriage requires new skills in communication, conflict resolution and so on. Love cannot protect a marriage from harm. But love combined with effective skills can overcome all.”

There is a lot to commend people who dedicate their lives to being the best they can be. Winners may have talent.  They may have benefited from great coaches and good weather.  But in the end, they win because they put their whole attention to the details of the game that make winning even possible.

Golf…and marriage.  Winning at the game is only possible if we have the proper goal…more than winning…persisting in the challenge…making our game the best that it can be.