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Watching the Accenture Match Play tournament a few weeks ago, I was struck with one of the essential elements of golf: Competition. Whether you’re playing in a friendly weekend foursome or The Masters, golfers want to beat other golfers. Even if you’re playing alone, you want to beat the course or the diabolical architect who designed it or your best score. I’m not talking final score either, although in a club, junior, or USGA tournament that’s important; I’m talking about individual drives, approach shots, chips, bunker shots, and putts. We want to outdo each other. I won’t show it, but down under the skin, I’m annoyed when my 73 year old golf buddy, Steve,outdrives me, and when he birdies a hole to my bogey, I’ll congratulate him, but I’m not at all happy for him. I know this is quite un-Buddhist of me as Buddhists eschew competition and envy, but it must be part of my genetic makeup. My Dad was a pretty decent amateur boxer, and my brother Hank played ball just behind Wilt Chamberlain at Overbrook High in Philly.

In fact, I don’t even like it when someone out-meditates me. I want to be the best student, lasting the longest (made it to 17 hours once on a retreat), and being the most equanimous. I come across as being a mellow fellow but down deep, I want to prevail in competitive situations. In meditation, it’s not cool to admit this, although I’ve observed this competitive tendency in other practitioners, particularly in touting their meditative cred. But in golf, it’s prevalent in most players I’ve observed, men and women.

To embrace this element of competitiveness adds an edge to the game that for amateurs gives a taste of what the pros experience. Competition is the reason most of us can’t take our progress at the range to the course. It translates into pressure which translates into tension which translates into a topped seven iron that came out of nowhere. But competition and the pressure that follows are also what makes us want to improve.

The best antidote for pressure that arises out of competition is to (more…)

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