It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing color and starting to litter the ground. The goblins and ghouls won’t be too long after. But, for me, one of the real signs of the fall are the yard signs, mostly colored red and blue, that are becoming more and more prevalent on nearly every street you pass.
Some of them have donkeys. Most in this part of the country have elephants. At this point, they’re nearly impossible to ignore. If you’re somehow able to avoid the impossible onslaught of yard signs, you can’t miss their point by turning on the TV or opening Facebook or Twitter. The never-ending bombardment of political ads isn't just about polarization. At this point, its bordering on pulverization of our collective attention.
Most are names of people I’ve never heard of. Most are for offices I’m surprised anyone really wants. We think golf course superintendents have a thankless job, try being an elected official… Just kidding Supers, you’ve definitely got it worse.
I read a quote from the great Tom Coyne in one of the latest issues of The Golfer’s Journal and while I don’t have it right in front of me, it went something like, “my wife asked me what my golf buddy and I talked about during our four hour round and I honestly had no idea.” I know the feeling.
When it comes to golf, I’m not thinking about all that other stuff. I’m thinking about the next drive, missing that overhanging limb, leaving my approach below the hole. Sometimes I’m thinking about what I did on that terrible drive, how I sent my punch shot so high that it clipped that overhanging branch, how in the world am I going to snake-in this downhill putt. Maybe I’m a simpleton, but for as frustrating as the game of golf can be, I don’t think about all the other stuff happening off the course.
I don’t know how many people I’ve had the pleasure of playing golf with this year. I know that I’ve played with a lot more people than I was expecting to when the pandemic hit everywhere and I’m definitely thankful for that (again, shoutout you supers for keeping us going!). But, what is really striking about all that golf with all those people is that for most of them, I probably couldn’t tell you who any of those people were voting for. Just like the writer Coyne’s wife, it blows my own wife’s mind that I could spend that much time with a person playing golf and not know that detail about them. She knows me too well to know that it wouldn’t come up in a four hour conversation with someone.
That isn’t to say that some of the people who’ve played with me don’t know how I think, and could therefore infer how I vote. My best friends know I’m not shy sharing my opinions after we get off the course, have a few too many beverages, and all start telling lies to each other. No one changes their minds but we’re solving the world’s problems one can, or cocktail, at a time.
There’s a time and a place for political theorizing. And for me, and nearly every golfer I’ve had the pleasure of playing with up to this point, that place isn’t on the course. It doesn’t matter if you lean politically toward the left rough or the right bunker. When we’re on the course, it seems like we’re all trying to keep it pretty much down the middle.
And considering some of the conversations I’ve had in the past several months off of the golf course, writing that I’m “trying to keep it down the middle” while playing golf is kind of remarkable. Hardly seems like anyone is keeping it down the middle in this day and age, yours truly included. It doesn’t matter if you’re surfing your favorite social media app, driving through your neighborhood, or trying to watch a football game: the pieces of our lives that typically divide are the ones being shoved in our faces at every turn. It’s no wonder trying to find the middle is so difficult.
There was this old saying you use to hear after playing a little league game: "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you played the game." To be honest, I never really believed that. If I'm playing, I'm playing to win. That's kind of the point, right? But when it comes to all of the political stuff all around us everyday, it seems like we might have gone a bit too far. It's like winning is the only thing that matters (or at least preventing the other side from winning), regardless of the damages caused along the way.
To put it in golf terms: if I go out to play, play well and get beat, it's still a pretty damn good day. If I go play focusing on just winning, that likely won't be fun for me or anyone else I'm playing with that day either. Losing with that type of mindset usually takes a day or two to recover from too.
Writing this has opened my eyes to the own contradictions in my own life. How can I care about all that stuff so much in my everyday life and then just seem to forget about it for four hours while playing a round of golf? How can something seemingly so important just be switched off like that?
I think the realization I’m having is because it was never that important to begin with. I don’t think about political stuff when I’m spending time with my boys in the backyard. I don’t think about political stuff when I’m cheering on the Wildcats. I don’t think about political stuff when I’m curled up on the couch watching a movie with my wife. And I don’t think about political stuff on the golf course. Those are the important things in my life. I guess what I'm saying is that there isn’t any reason in ruining the things that make me happy with thoughts and conversations that don’t.
We still have roughly a month to go before the yard signs and political television ads are nothing more than bad memories of a terrible year. Maybe your favorite politicians will win the jobs you want them to. Maybe they won’t. Maybe mine won’t either. Good thing my happiness doesn’t come from what happens behind the curtain in the polling booth. I’m still going to hang with my boys in the backyard, enjoy my time on the couch with my wife, cheer on the Cats, and tee it up at my favorite places, old and new, all over this great state.
It’s doubtful we’ll be able to avoid, or escape, every aspect of political polarization in our life. We may be too far gone at this point. Hell, you may not think it’s a problem and want to just keep on going down this path of polarization. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to do anything and I’ll still play golf with you. I’ll be the one in the left bunker, or the right rough, and I'll be doing my damnedest to find the middle of the fairway. That looks like a good spot to be.
As always... We’re glad you're here.