“Golf is a series of tragedies and the occasional miracle followed by a cold bottle of beer”
Golf is the greatest game of all. Despite its incredible difficulty, which makes it a source of constant frustration, it exerts a mysterious and irresistible attraction that has kept people in suspense for centuries. But what is it all about?
There have been countless attempts to explain the intense allure of golf, from the humorous to those claiming that golf is a religious activity.
While all explanations may have some value, the ultimate answer may lie in a psychological trait that is ingrained in human nature: facing difficult situations from which we are able to emerge victorious, however small, makes us happy.
For example, think of a toddler who has just finished his first puzzle after several failed attempts. Can you imagine the smile on his face? Now imagine an eight-year-old girl proudly looking at the blooming flowers she patiently tended to. What do they have in common? They both won a small, significant victory, from which they drew happiness.
Golf gives us just that, but on an industrial scale: a constant challenge with endless possibilities for achieving small victories.
Think, if not that amazing 8-footer that won your local tournament. What about that amazing driver who ran across the fairway on the 17th? Or that incredible contribution that left your friends stunned?
It doesn’t matter how many bad shots you had in those days. These small – and sometimes big – victories keep us golfers coming back for more. This is golf’s secret sauce.
The whole idea was born based on pure observation and deductive thinking. While this has yet to be scientifically proven, there is at least one related scientific study that strongly suggests that this may be true.
In 2011, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer published a book called The Principle of Progress. With over 30 years of experience in researching creativity and problem solving, respectively, Amabile and Kramer launched a research program to answer questions about how positive and negative work environments are created and how they affect creative problem solving in people.
238 people in 7 companies took part in the study. For several weeks, participants responded to questions sent to them via email every day to analyze everyday events that might affect their inner working lives.
Not surprisingly, the study found that a positive inner working life boosts creativity and productivity. However, one of the most unexpected discoveries was what the authors later called the Progress Principle: Of all the positive events that affect the inner working life, progress in meaningful work is the strongest.
In other words, making progress on difficult tasks, even in small steps, can contribute to happiness and motivation.
Although the conditions of the working environment are very different from the conditions of playing golf (thankfully), it is not difficult to imagine that the same principle applies to both. However, this would need to be confirmed by further research (you listen, USGA, R&A?).
Why is it important to understand the exact reason why golf is attractive? Beyond mere intellectual curiosity, if confirmed by scientific research, it would be a discovery of great importance to the golf industry. One that could revolutionize the way the golf industry communicates about itself to attract new players to the game.
What are your thoughts?
About the author:
Germán Lechuga is an enthusiastic, though admittedly not very outstanding, golfer who deeply believes that playing golf is one of the best things that can happen to anyone. After reluctantly ruling out having the talent necessary to advance his career on the PGA Tour, he decided to give the game something back in the form of writing instead.
Amabile, T. M. and Kramer, S. J. (2011). The principle of progress: using small victories to ignite joy, commitment and creativity at work. Harvard Business Review Press.
Dickson, P. (2008). Golf is…: quotes from the greats, near-greats and would-bes who have played the game. Walker & Company.