By Mark Harman USGTF Director of Education, Ridgeland, South Carolina

I came across an email the other day in which the writer reflected that he was on the “back nine” of life. It got me to thinking about the fact that many of us use golf as a metaphor for life, and if I could find a way to correlate a person’s age to the 18 holes in a round of golf.

The average life span of an American is just shy of 80 years, while our Canadian friends to the north average a healthy 82! So they must  be doing something we’re not, obviously, but let’s not get into that. Anyway, let’s be optimistic and say that we can expect to live to be 90  years old. Over an 18-hole round of golf, that would equate five years of our lives to each hole.

1st hole (ages 0-5). The first hole, like the first five years of our lives, holds great promise. We really haven’t started anything yet, so the  first hole can set the tone for the rest of our round (life). Some studies indicate our personalities are set by the age of five; others dispute that  notion. But there is no doubt that the first hole has a great deal of influence over the next 17. No less than the great Jack Nicklaus believed  this.

2nd hole (ages 6-10). We’re still in the early stages of the round. Can we overcome that opening double bogey? Will the euphoria of a birdie give us false expectations for the rest of the round?

3rd hole (ages 11-15). Our round of golf is beginning to take shape. It is still early enough in the round to make amends for any mistakes from the previous two holes, but a bad start can certainly be deleterious for later in the round. If we double-bogey all three holes, we certainly have a lot of work ahead of us to undo the damage.

4th hole (ages 16-20). Just like in life, our round is maturing. By the fourth hole, we have a great sense of where this thing is headed. However, we still have plenty of time to turn around early mistakes, and a great start can be undone if we are not careful to continue to follow the fundamentals.

5th hole (ages 21-25). Well. We are certainly on our own now, and there’s no turning back. We’re also halfway through the front nine, so if we want the first half of the round to turn out well, we have to get a move on – now!

6th hole (ages 26-30). We’re somewhat at a crossroads here. We’re not entirely sure where this round is headed, but we do have a pretty good idea. If we’ve made a couple of birdies to go along with some pars, there is no reason to expect that we won’t see some smooth sailing – at least for the foreseeable future.

7th hole (ages 31-35). The round is definitely taking shape now. If we’ve made more than our fair share of bogeys, it will take a lot of good play to make something out of it at the end. But if our start has been going well to this point, we still have to keep our foot to the pedal to achieve the desired outcome later on.

8th hole (ages 36-40). Most rounds have achieved full maturity at this point, although there is still some question as to how all this will turn out. It’s possible that the entire round is ruined by now and that there is nothing we can do to salvage it. On the other hand, we may still be able to redeem it with some fine play in the next several holes.

9th hole (ages 41-45). Here it is…we are at the halfway point of our round. It is here where we first have a total score of some sort, known as the front nine. Heading for the halfway house, we ask ourselves what we could have done differently to make the first nine holes better. And even if we had some success, we will think about the one or two strokes that we inevitably let get away, no matter how well we are  playing.

10th hole (ages 46-50). Now we’re turning towards the back nine, and while the round is more than halfway over, we have a new goal  in mind: to shoot the best nine possible to make the outcome as good as we can. In some ways, it’s like a fresh start as a new score can be had.

11th hole (ages 51-55). Is the start of the back nine a continuation of the front nine? If we’re playing well, we certainly hope so. If it’s not, maybe we’ve turned it around and can look forward to not only reducing the damage we caused on the front nine, but to even come out better than we expect.

12th hole (ages 56-60). There is still enough time in the round to salvage something, but enough time has also passed that it may be too late.

13th hole (ages 61-65). It is here that we are starting to realize that are fate is largely determined. But yet, there’s always hope to make a  final birdie or two to end things on a good note.

14th hole (ages 66-70). There’s no use kidding ourselves at this point. The finish line is in sight, but we still have the strength to  accomplish a few things before it’s all said and done.

15th hole (ages 71-75). Only three holes left. Still, we have to bear down and finish the round. We have to keep our energy level up. We  might surprise ourselves if we keep moving forward with a good, positive attitude.

16th hole (ages 76-80). Not much we can do at this point to change the outcome. But it’s still a minor mystery as to what the final score  will be.

17th hole (ages 81-85). Now there’s only one hole left. How will people remember how we played this round?

18th hole (ages 86-90). The round is over! All the trials and tribulations are behind us, and if we played a great round, we come off the  course fulfilled and happy. If we played average, we realize there are so many things we could have done better, but there are also things we did very well. And if we played poorly…well, we can at least say we learned a lot.

And finally…

19th hole (ages 91+). Yes, there is a 19th hole! If we’re lucky enough to get to the 19th hole, it is here that we can sit back in a comfortable  chair and regale our friends and family with our feats of the day. Yes, we might bore someone with recounting over and over how we made  eagle early in the round when we were still at full strength, or had a run of birdies late that turned everything around. It is here that we can  fully relax and think back on our round, where so many thoughts might come flooding back.

If you are at the 19th hole, you deserve a good refreshment or two. And take your time doing so. The ride home will come soon enough.
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