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The Riddle of Golf


One of my favorite movies is Conan the Barbarian (1982) with Arnie and James Earl Jones. One theme running through that movie is The Riddle of Steel. Conan must learn its answer before facing his god Krom lest he get tossed from Vahalla upon his death. Golf is similar to the riddle of steel. Simple question a multitude of paths to get to the answer.

Riddle of steel
Arnie as the original Conan the Barbarian.

To break down golf, the goal is to put a ball into a cup three times the size of the ball. The journey from tee box to hole presents challenges both physical and mental. From swing mechanics to mental fortitude, golf offers a multitude of questions but very few unifying answers. It truly is a riddle.

Structure of a Riddle

In an article How to Write a Riddle, Jay Ketchum recommended working backwards to create a riddle. He suggested thinking of the answer then a description of the answer and then write the riddle. Golf is similar to that as first we think of the hole and score/par. Putting is the easiest swing (mechanically speaking) then pitching then irons then woods and then driver.

So putting is all touch and precision while driving is about club head speed and proper path adherence and iron fall in the middle with a little from both extremes. So there is no one single swing for every part of the game. Further muddying the water, there are different iron swings to add a draw or fade upon request if that level of control has been achieved or earned. The house of golf is built with different sized timbers and not all floors the same height.

Personal Riddle

The craziest part of solving the game of golf is that the answer is unique to each player. YouTube is the most popular teaching golf pro in the world. The problem arise that YouTube has never seen my swing. Despite finding nuggets of truth in five videos, there is no guarantee that the any of the observed tips will fix my swing. Only through knowing one’s self will one’s greatest golf potential be reached.

No One Part of the Swing Is More Important

When I learn about a new swing technique, I tend to focus on that element and my swing improves for a little while until I end up neglecting another part of my swing. Focusing on one element ignores the universal fact that the golf swing is a single action with multiple intertwined aspects. The grip sets club face which helps takeaway which aligns downswing which sets up follow through. The whole process needs to be unified or it falls apart but it happens too fast sometimes for my mind to follow.

Clues Are Earned Not Given

To get better at golf, it takes experience and an unwavering quest for knowledge. Natural skill propels the lucky golfers to low handicaps. I am not blessed with the coordination or concentration of that level so I need to read more books to expand my mind and continue to build muscle memory and club face awareness at each stage of the swing.

“True Wisdom Comes From Knowing You Know Nothing”

The quote above is from Socrates. Pronounced So Crates by Bill and Ted and described the enlightened points of my game. Only when I do not over think my swing does it truly happen cleanly. I will be standing perched in my follow through with that great stance and not have a memory of the swing. I did not just swing like a gorilla after two double espressos. My muscle memory took over from behind the scenes and I swung in a truly moment of Zen.

Does Riddle of Golf Need to be Solved?

I am perfectly content playing bogey golf these days. My handicap is stagnant is the high teens. To move the needle, I would need to improve my approach play to hit more greens in regulation and score in the high 88s all summer. I am not ready for that level of commitment to lessons and practice and that is okay. I will continue to walk this fairway path and sometimes I will stray into the rough (most likely on the right side).

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