Keep Swinging: Golf and Writing

By Brett Lovell

I have an eight-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son which means I don’t have time for hobbies. I especially don’t have time for a hobby, like golf, that can consume up to four or five hours of my day; driving to the course, warming up, and playing eighteen holes means it takes almost half-a-day to play one round. But I still play a handful of times per year, mostly with my father who introduced me to the game when I was nine.

I made the varsity golf team as a freshman in high school. It sounds more impressive than it was because that was in 1994 in rural Southwest Virginia. Golf was not popular among my peers at that time. It was a few years before Tiger Woods exploded the game’s popularity. My high school was struggling to field a roster and I made the team simply by showing up to the first practice.

Fast forward to my senior year and we were a competitive team. We hosted a regional tournament at the beginning of every season called the Carroll County Shootout, that we won my senior year, and I led the way with a seventy-five. I went to the high school football game the next Friday night and the cool kids, who never talked to me, were congratulating me on my performance.

Later that season, we were one of six teams playing for the Virginia Group AA State Championship at Spotswood Country Club in Harrisonburg. The format was thirty-six holes over two days. I choked on the first day. I couldn’t take the pressure of playing in the state championship. Our entire team played poorly, and we were in last place after the first day. The next morning, the coach pulled me aside and informed me that he was replacing me with a younger player for the final round. He wanted the younger player to have the experience of competing in a big tournament. I was crushed. It was the only match I had missed in my entire four-year career on the golf team, and it was my last. We finished sixth out of six teams. I didn’t touch a golf club for almost two years after being benched in my final match.

Golf is a game of highs and lows. Just like writing novels. You experience wild swings in emotion from year-to-year and day-to-day. One year you are experiencing the high of signing a publishing contract for your novel, and the next you are worrying if anyone will buy your book. One morning you hate the draft of your current work in progress and want to burn it up in a brush pile, but by that afternoon you think that same draft is the best thing you’ve ever written. The daily highs and lows can be just as wild in a round of golf. You can make a hole-in-one and a quadruple bogey in the same round. One day you are playing in the state championship and then benched for the final round the next day. Golf helped prepare me for the highs and lows of a writing career. All writers know that rejection and failure are part of the game. Successful writers are probably some of the most resilient people in our society. They continue writing in the face of rejection after rejection and usually, the ones who are still standing at the end of a long career are the ones who never gave up.

Golf is a game of failure. The winning golfer is the one who fails the least. In sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella’s book, Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, one of his psychological tricks is to visualize the shot before you hit it. See the shot in your mind’s eye and you’re more likely to hit a good one. Easier said than done. Writers are always striving and usually failing to produce the perfect story. The story idea in my head that seems perfect when it flashes through my brain while doing chores, or taking a walk, or lying awake in bed at three o’clock in the morning is never as good when I try to replicate it on the blank page. I am always trying, and failing, to make the words on the page match the vision in my head.

One thing I learned as a competitive golfer is that you are not playing against your opponent. You are playing against the golf course and against yourself. Your opponent is also playing the same course and against themselves, but you have no control over how your opponent plays the course. Writing feels the same. I’m not saying that other writers are my opponents. They are not. But we are all individuals playing the same course. There may be different genres, different forms, and different abilities but we are all using our creativity, skills, talent, and work ethic to play against the blank page.

Golf is best played in the company of others. Playing golf by yourself is not as fun. When I first started writing I thought that it was an individual pursuit. I controlled what I wrote, and how I wrote, and how good or bad it was. If I was going to get published, then it was solely up to how I performed and I was going to do it on my own. However, I quickly learned that I needed others to read my work for it to get better. My first novel would not be as good if it wasn’t for my wife’s comments, my beta reader’s suggestions, and a copyeditor’s polish.

One quote that other writers reference, again and again, is the Dorothy Parker line: “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Apparently, many famous writers share this opinion. I am the opposite. I think creative writing is fun. I wouldn’t do it if I hated it. I love getting lost in the words and getting lost in the story and solving structural problems in the plot and narrative. I also love having written, but I experience some anxiety with the thought of putting my work out into the world for others to judge, to love or to hate, or worse, not read at all.

I used to get very nervous when a large group of other golfers watched me tee off on the first tee. This happened frequently in high school tournaments. Eventually, I got used to being watched by other golfers and it no longer bothered me. Now, that first shot of the day with people watching is usually one of my best shots of the round because I become very focused in that moment. My first novel was recently published, and I have the first tee jitters. I wonder if that nervousness will go away with time if I’m lucky enough to publish subsequent novels. Will I stand confident on future publication dates like I do now on the first tee with other people watching, or will those doubts always be there?

Golf is still fun even when you duff a few into the pond or miss a three-foot putt for par. I always leave the course wanting more. It is the same with writing. Even if my stories go unread or don’t get reviews or recognition, at least I experienced the joy of writing and publishing a novel and if I shank one into the woods out of bounds, I’ll learn from the experience and keep swinging.

Brett’s debut novel, A Bad and Dangerous Man, is available from Shotgun Honey.

Brett Lovell

Brett Lovell is the author of A Bad and Dangerous Man (2023, Shotgun Honey). His short story “The Ghost of Shadow Lake” was published in the Fall 2022 issue of Change Seven Magazine. He has a couple degrees from Virginia Tech and lives in Blacksburg, Virginia with his wife and two children.