So Many Ways to Be a Competitor – Which One Works Best?
Not much of a spoiler alert, but I will admit up front that choosing a style of competition depends on the way one is wired. There are as many ways of being a competitor than there are personality types, and they’re probably all fine.
First of all, what is there to compete against in your world? Assuming that we are looking for a score and/or win, perhaps in a stroke tournament or match play, there is the game itself, which in terms of difficulty should be plenty. In the Zen approach, there is only me and the game, me and the club, the ball, the obstacle course, regardless of how I intend to approach and probably screw it up. In this style, I have no interest in what my partner is shooting, other than to sympathize with the bad and praise the good. When I address the ball, however, he or she does not exist, and is in that moment not the object of my hoped-for victory. I’m playing against a standard, maybe the course record, maybe what I shot last week, but people are there for company, not as gladiators.
The testesteronic type might be repelled by such a notion. Why do a difficult physical thing if you’re not going to do it better than someone else, and let them and passersby know it? This external, primarily male dominance competitor is ready to defend his spot in the jungle against anything,and is at his most furious when he defeats himself.
Both types can be seen on the tour. It wasn’t enough for Tiger Woods to play “me against the world,” because the world was too small. For him, at least in the early years, it was “me against God, the universe, the Internal Revenue Service, and anyone else who comes within five strokes.” The Zen competitor, perhaps, competes against unspecified aspects of himself, and all the inconsistencies that come with being a human being. Maybe he or she puts the obsession into the swing, or course management, or what his therapist told him last week – but always , always tranquility of the mind.
The macho competitor can also compete with himself, but usually in the physical prowess aspects, like driving distance. Ben Hogan was a hybrid of both. While crafting a swing that any Buddhist monk would kill for, he sounded as if putting shouldn’t even be part of the game. Nicklaus, to my perception, not only seemed to work with the analytics of the swing and on-course decisions. He seemed to have actual conversations with them. Once he had talked them into what he wanted, he knew he could beat anybody. Player was the most Zen of the Big Three, his “take the beach” stare burning holes in the ball before sending it away. Palmer was a mystery, because a spectacular inner and outer image involved. As a competitor, the more imposed will and terrifying violence thrown at the thing, the better it will all work.
Many of us would fit the description of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” who hope to score well out of some special emission of good will. We trust our brains and swings to Providence and all its vagueries. We weren’t supposed to win after all, but sometimes the great whatever allows it, making us barely competitors at all.
We can witness the strong silent type every week, or an exterior competitor such as Brooks Koepka. He brings the inner stark reality to the outside, and speaks it, wherever he is. Sometimes it’s perfect for the occasion, and sometimes it’s a crashing bore, especially those tidbits endlessly repeated. But his is a game made for majors, and he knows it. He’s the type that has the Zen golfer so psyched out before leaving the first tee, the victory is likely predetermined.
Within these categories are hundreds of sub-categories I could not hope to name. Ultimately, I believe that we are competing against something inward or outward that hasn’t always been quite right, something that needs fixing. The golf course is a wonderful place to do it, as most of us would shrink from the boxing ring or skydiving club. There’s one thing that is certain, though. There’s nothing like marriage, driving across the country with a stranger, or a round of golf to reveal just what sort of competitor we really are.