Self-Challenges Inspired by Golf by Bonnie Jin

Self-Challenges Inspired by Golf

(Honorable Mention, memoir)

Standing on the tee box, driver in hand was a sun-tanned teenager, her dark hair gathered up in a high ponytail. Glancing towards the fairway, she let out a tense breath. Her body relaxed into a familiar position, one which she had practiced tens of thousands of times. In one swift motion, the girl raised her club and swung, hitting the ball with a resounding ring. The ball soared into the air; her eyes never left it until the moment it landed on the ground…


That girl is me. Looking at my sun-tanned skin, many classmates wondered why I spent so much time playing golf. My answer is simply because I enjoy those self-challenges that golf brings. Golf can also inspire my school studies by forming good habits, setting a clear plan, being efficient, avoiding mistakes, and having a positive mindset, all of which is included within the scope of self-challenges.


Unlike many other competitive sports, golfers do not need to react to an opponent in order to win. The primary skill that golfers must master is to make every swing count, so that they can use the least amount of strokes to finish a round of 18 holes. In other words, having to face continuous challenges is a key to sharpening one’s golf skills. This past summer, I played almost every day at a golf course, a shot range, or various tournaments, in spite of extremely hot weather. As a result, I was selected to be a part of my school’s girl’s varsity golf team this year. At that moment, I felt ecstatic. It had only been two years counting from the first time I played golf, and I had been a part of the school’s junior varsity team last season.


To begin, forming good habits is the first self-challenge for acquiring any new skill, and it is the same for golf. The swing plane (the path the golf club goes through during a swing) and the tempo (the coordination between the upper and lower body) are generally difficult to master for beginning golfers like me. I practiced these swing dynamics to a point where they became my habits and completely natural to my body. Aristotle once said, “Excellence is not an art, but a habit”. In my studies, good habits are what make students successful. These habits can be formed through repeated practice. For example, I have to do hundreds of math problems to learn a new math concept. To learn a new piano piece, I usually have to play that song thousands of times until it’s ingrained in my mind. There are various types of good learning habits. One of which is having a plan for everything.


In both golf and my studies, I must “begin with the end in mind”. Golfers must set a clear plan to fit the different lengths and difficulties of each course. The goal of the entire plan is to achieve par or a stroke number below par. Each hole consists of a flag to guide the golfer. The plan must include how to overcome obstacles approaching the hole and the quickest path to get the ball into the said hole. A round of golf consists of 18 small plans, and as long as each plan is thought-out, the entire plan will be successful. Meanwhile, if certain mistakes of the golf swing occur, the original plan should be revised immediately. One time, I hit the ball into the woods. I thought that I still could hit the ball through the trees towards the flag and tried to do so. That poor decision actually put me deeper into the woods, and the ball was surrounded by even more trees. Later on, my coach suggested that my original plan should have been changed immediately; for example, I should have gotten the ball out of the woods first in spite of it being farther to the hole. This also applies to my studies. In middle school, I participated in many extracurricular activities, such as dancing and learning the accordion besides piano and violin. When I started high school, I had to consolidate my overall plan, putting first things first by cutting down those secondary activities to focus on just piano and violin.


Trying to raise the efficiency but not conflicting with the overall plan is another self-challenge. Efficiency in golf means to have the least amount of strokes to get the ball into the hole. There are two ways to accomplish this: hitting the ball farther when needed and control of the falling point of the ball. The former is extremely important in long distance courses, while the latter is for specific shots approaching the hole on the green. In this past season, I improved my accuracy significantly, being able to successfully get the ball onto the green in only a few strokes, and controlling where the ball lands. In school, efficiency often means achieving the quickest time to complete school work and the ability to do multiple tasks simultaneously. There are many ways to raise study efficiency.  One way is to set a higher goal based on my capability. To speed up my progress for those subjects that are easier to learn, I often set an individualized plan instead of following the given syllabus, which is just a step by step learning plan for most students. Another example is that my private violin teacher usually sets a fast learning pace for me, like throwing a difficult piece at me instead of picking songs found in the “Suzuki book”, forcing me to adjust faster, like forcing me to use the elevator instead of ascending through the steps to quickly reach a new level. The second method is killing two birds with one stone. Table tennis is another one of my favorite sports alongside golf, especially during the wintertime. The reason I love table tennis is that not only am I exercising my body but also training my reaction speed and skills in controlling the ball. This is also helpful for me to improve golf by being able to putt better on the green. Perhaps this is “To kill three birds with one stone”.


During the execution stage of the plan, avoiding or minimizing mistakes is another self- challenge in both golf and my studies. Various types of mistakes accompany beginner golfers like me, such as frequently hitting poor shots, driving the ball into sand traps or water hazards. These swing mistakes are more obvious and can be easily minimized through repeated practice. My improved golf scores are certainly the results of minimizing these mistakes. However, there is a type of “invisible mistake”, which has raised my attention, and I call it a “latent mistake”. It gradually formed during my normal golf play, eventually becoming a type of bad habit. This season when I managed to get my score down to a career-best of 81 strokes, it began to climb back up to the high 90s during the last few tournaments. My coach helped me identify the cause: my arm had straightened out at the top of my golf swing, causing me to hit the ball improperly. Apparently, it happened during the season as I focused on improving my short game (short distance shots onto the green) more and more. Once I realized the issue, it was quickly resolved, even though the season had ended. This “latent mistake” also appeared in my school studies. I used to listen to music using ear buds while doing homework. As I could not find its instant negative influence on my studies, it gradually became a bad habit of mine. Until recently, I experienced that this behavior significantly decreased my learning efficiency and then finally corrected it after struggling through it all. Now, I understand that as human beings, mistakes are bound to happen, either in golf or other life instances. What is important is to detect and correct them as soon as possible and to not repeat the same mistake again, as well as to minimize new ones.


In the scope of self-challenges, minimizing psychological impacts or having a positive mindset (to not become cocky with success or discouraged by failure) might be the hardest to achieve in either golf or school studies.  It has been recognized that many psychological factors have important influences on golf scores. Like most golfers, I tend to become nervous and excited in front of people which may cloud my judgment and hinder my golf game. The more I want to hit the ball well, the more likely I am to hit a poor shot. My coach advised me to take deep breaths before each shot and relax, as well as having a positive mindset before and during hitting. Also, by playing more tournaments, my nervousness around people gradually decreased. In that regard, my school studies provide similar challenges. If anxiety and nervousness get in the way of my thinking, they could impact how I do on an exam. When I learnt to manage my mindset during exams, my performance was always better than anticipated. Sometimes the anxiety and nervousness may come from previous success in either golf or my studies.  A few years ago, I received the Exemplary Solo Award for piano at a music festival that was only issued to a few outstanding players in the state. However, at the same festival the following year, due to being more nervous about keeping up with previous successes, I made several mistakes and failed to achieve any awards. Therefore, learning to lessen any psychological impact and keeping a positive mindset are aspects of conquering myself.


Today, golf is really prevailing in the world – loved by men and women, seniors and juniors alike. I think this may be attributed to the personal rewards to be gained by challenging oneself, because, as the result of self-challenges, each successful stroke can give the golfer fulfilling joy or happiness. The above five types of self-challenges not only are applicable for learning processes but can also be applied to other fields in life. William Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”. Through my golf experience, I can honestly say that “All the classrooms are golf courses, and all the students merely golfers.” Hopefully, these inspirations of golf will guide me to complete my school year and help me become successful in the future.


The Scholastic Art Competition recognized Bonnie Jin (’19) with an Honorable Mention for her memoir, Self Challenges Inspired by Golf.