Can Golf Save Congress?

An article in NPR posited the idea that if members of Congress played more golf together, like in the olden days, they would get more work done.

It’s an interesting idea — one that has been proposed many times over in different forms. If members of Congress drank together, ate dinner togeter, took trips and retreats together. If their spouses did volunteer work in DC together, if they moved their family to DC so their kids could go to school together, we could break through the incivility and gridlock.

In the late 1990’s, the Aspen Institute hosted 3-day retreats hoping to bring members of Congress from both sides of the aisle together to get to know one another — and face the issue of incivility in Congress head on. Around 200 Members, their spouse, and children attended. Did it work? Sort of.

But, what of this idea of bi-partisan golf? It’s an interesting idea to me because there can be no expectations of it working. There would be no panel discussions, no conference rooms, no “educational” or “official” purposes. Just golf.

When Speaker Boehner and President Obama went on their golf summit, I bet there was little talk about legislation. That’s not what golf for business is about. Now, many people will disagree with me on that. But in my experience, a round of golf is about 3 1/2 hours of meaningful conversation and about 30 minutes of work conversation. And usually, the work talk is positive (or, at least neutral) — “Can you give me your thoughts on a report I’ve written?” “We’ve got a conference on trade coming up, you should come.” “How do we break through with this group I’ve been wanting to meet with?”

I’m not saying we walk away giving up our principles. “Sure, John, I’ll repeal ACA and you forget this whole estate tax thing. Sounds like a deal. Aren’t you glad we played a round of golf together?”

That’s not how it works. But, that’s not the point, either. The point is that they’re talking — something which neither side is fond of doing with the other.

So, how might we make this happen?

As I’ve said before, there are many fantastic golf courses around the DC area. I’m not sure, though, that a golf outing in the tradition sense is the best way to go. It’s been done over and over again with little success and it’s hard for non-golfers to take part and even harder for large groups.

Enter Top Golf. To just hang out, fellowship, eat burgers and fries, drink beer and wine, and hit golf balls — a recipe for civility if I ever heard one. And there’s a Top Golf facility just down the road from the Capitol that’s open late.

Immediately following suspension votes on a Monday evening, put the Members on a bus, and arrive at the range in 20 minutes.

The great thing about Top Golf is that a beginner can participate — something necessary when trying to build some cameraderie. I’ve been to Top Golf with complete novices and scratch golfers and both enjoyed the experience. Also it’s a fantastic way to bring people into the game in a judgment-free environment.

Spending four years working in Congress, I saw first-hand how civility can deteriorate. The use of social media and YouTube to embarass members of Congress, a 24-hour news cycle, and constant campaigning, help to drive colleagues apart.

It’s up to the members themselves to decide that civility in government is important and that they have ownership over it’s success and failure. Golf is a tool that can help bridge the divide and maybe bring some people to the game as well.

What did I learn last weekend?

That I’m a bad listener.

I played 9 holes with some friends this weekend. We reserved two tee-times for eight folks. Three of them have never played golf before. Two of them, my old roommates, had played before but didn’t get out hardly at all.

Sounds like a disaster, right? But not in the way you think.

I was astonished at how well my former roommates played. Astonished, mostly, because I had no idea that they played golf! One of the women seriously ripped at the ball — taking divots off the fairway — beating down 200 yard drives. The other had a short game that many 15 handicappers would die for. We played a scramble and we used a good number of their shots.

I lived with them for two years and didn’t know that they play golf…and do it well. Why didn’t I ever ask?

To tell you the truth, I was so much blown away by their ability, I could hardly concentrate on the fact that my other friend, the beginner, was asking me for help.

Just hit the ball,” I would say, like a complete asshole.

When was golf ever that simple? As just hitting the ball?

She responded with, “It seems more complicated than that.”

She’s right. But, why didn’t I help her?

The next day, I was standing on the 14th tee box on East Potomac’s Blue Course looking down at my grip — I’ve added that to my pre-shot routine — and realized, “You jerk. Start with the grip!”

Had I taken a moment to show my friend how to grip the club, it would have made a huge difference for her. It would have led to taking a stance properly, keeping her head down. THEN HIT THE BALL.

And I would have thanked my old roommates for showing my friend how to hit the ball.

Next time, if I can.

 

$#!% Storm of a Week or What Golf Teaches Us About Dealing With Tough Times

You know what happened and I’m not going to bring up the details.

I’m playing golf tomorrow morning. It’s, very literally, the one thing that can take my mind off of anything. It’s my moment of zen that lasts four hours. I golf when I’m down; I golf when I’m up; and anywhere in-between. Tomorrow is one of those golfing when I’m down rounds.

I read an article, passed around the twittersphere, earlier this week by the Fred Rogers Company that talked about looking for “the helpers” during times of tragedy. Listening to Mr. Rogers giving advice to parents for talking with their children about communities in crisis nearly brought me to tears. So poignant, indeed, were his words that article after article after article after article after article were written about them. And people helped, I think in no small part, because of his advice.

Living and working in the DC area makes it tough to help in a concrete way those folks in Boston or Texas. So, I think I’ll offer my two cents on what golf can teach us about dealing with difficult times. And, there’s a metaphor here if you’re patient until the end…

At the Masters, Tiger got an unlucky break. On an approach shot, the ball hit the pin and ricocheted into a water hazard. His reaction to it was to take a drop and play the next shot. He didn’t throw a hissy-fit, yell, slam his club into the ground, punch his caddy in the face, or otherwise go completely apoplectic. He could have, that’s for sure, but he didn’t. Why?

Because those types of things happen all the time in golf. For every lucky bounce you get, it seems like a bad one happens on the next hole. A hole out from the fairway on two; a lost ball on three.

Here’s what I try to do when I hit a bad shot or get a bad break: act like it’s a normal shot. There’s no reason to get upset and throw a temper tantrum. The ball is already at rest, and I’ve already hit the shot. There’s nothing I can do now except to go hit it again.

Giving voice to the bad, making a scene, and working myself up can only carry over to the next shot. The last thing I want is to be standing over my ball pissed because it’s in the trees. I have to give my full attention to the shot at hand. I can’t do that if my mind is filled with vitriol because of that bird that squawked right in the middle of my backswing.

Don’t let one bad shot ruin the hole. Don’t let one bad hole ruin your whole round.

However, on a good shot, I give plenty of voice to that — even saying to myself, “Good shot, Luke.” Sometimes I go a little overboard and tell my playing partners that I’m impressed with the shot I just hit. It may sound like I’m being a conceited jerk but really I’m just celebrating something that I’ve worked hard for or, better yet, something that I just got lucky on!

When others hit a good shot or get a good break, I always make sure to praise their effort and the result. Why? Because it’s important that others hear that they’ve done well and that I recognize their accomplishment. And it’s important, not just to them but, to me. I need to say those things because they give me a positive feeling on my next shot.

Hint: you never ever (ever) say anything when someone hits a shot with bad results. They know the results aren’t ideal; they don’t need to be told. Also, you wouldn’t want to hear anything after a shot you’ve hit was lost forever in the trees. Just let it be.

This sounds a lot like my mother’s favorite pastor, Joel Osteen, who would say don’t dwell on past mistakes but look to the future and what is waiting in store for you. There’s great advice in that. In life, when things are seemingly falling apart, recognize that it is what it is, clear it from your mind, and make the next move.

Say thank you to the guy that says, “Great shot!” after you hit a shot with good results. He’s your helper.