John Patrick Williams
Why I Play Golf
Evidence against my common claim that I started playing golf in 2017.
I kind of hate golf. It feels inseparable to so much of what I struggle to accept and navigate in my life. I’ve noticed how often judgment and frustration comes up for me when I see how others play and talk about the game. I want golf to be different. I want it to be less closely tied to privilege and I wish I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed in certain circles to share that I play. But if I’m really being honest with myself, I see how I project judgment and frustration with myself outwardly. The game exposes me. It shows me something about my unique hangups and insecurities and lack of internal clarity about who I’m committed to being. I so often want others to change, rather than leaning into the effort I can make to play the game I choose for myself.
So why do I play golf? My ego plays to look good and shoot low scores. It wants to play the best courses and impress others with how far I hit the ball. With the quality of my strikes and my touch around the green. It wants validation and respect and admiration. That’s still there for me always. There are times I’m more aware of it than others, but it remains inseparable from who I am and how I show up in the world. My ego also wants to “fix” this. It wants to not care and to play with freedom and beauty and grace. It thinks it can solve things for me and manifest a perpetual high of made putts and perfect shots. It thinks it can manufacture a version of John Patrick Williams that is free from attachment. Always good and right and aligned. If we just do this, this, and this – all will be well.
But there’s another part of me that knows better. It reminds me that there is no endpoint, no final destination of sure alignment and sharp clarity and neat perfection. It says to me let’s lean into and embrace the mess. Let’s accept the endless paradox of being. It encourages me to be with it all – making the effort to stay with my breath and intention, to join my deeper self and stay present to all that life presents me with. I can then return to the love in my heart and my feet on the ground. I can enjoy the walk.
I feel that this is the doorway into all that I seek in life. Love and acceptance for the both/andness of it all. And a willingness to look honestly at my privilege and how I operate within it. It’s what Shivas Irons reminds me of when I revisit Golf in the Kingdom. It’s what I hear when Michael Murphy speaks to extraordinary possibilities and this greater life that is pressing to be born in each of us. It reminds me that I’m more than my fear. It asks me to be clear with myself about what I’m committed to and the man I choose to be in this life. It empowers me to create and come home to myself. To find my solid place to swing from.
I see golf as a microcosm for all that I hope to explore in my life. And even as the judgments continue to arise, even as the game continues to expose and frustrate me, I’m reminded of something innate and special within each of us. The Kingdom within, there waiting to welcome me home, helping to orient me in a direction I feel called to move. Toward a way of being with my messiness and then the world’s. It asks me to imagine new possibilities and practice with commitment and consistency. It reminds me to decide what I want to offer back, to transform and expand my sense of what’s possible, and to actively confront the ways I limit myself. I can then be clear about what really matters to me and the difference I want to make in this life. I can then go into my pain and longing, my insecurity and selfish self-obsession. I can find my courage and my strength – and open up to all that is pressing to be born in me. When I remember that, when I stay with it and find my way within it, I feel proud to play such a beautiful game.
I read this on the lawn at Esalen as part of my staff offering in October – A Solid Place to Swing From: Golf and the Kingdom Within