Golf’s ‘essential existential question?’ Here’s how I tried to answer it

The author

The author, thinking.

Tim Reilly

I let my wife down. I know that. She knows that. 

She tried, though. Lord, did she. But I had broken a promise. And I failed. 

I … 

Hadn’t gone to the driving range enough.

I hadn’t gone to the driving range enough? It’s true. As is this, though it’s obviously clear: My wife is a saint. And a motivator. A get-off-your-seat-and-do-somethng-about-it kinda gal. 

After all, she had wanted me to see what actual golf work after actual golf instruction would do to my pretend golf game. 

Again, she’s a keeper. 

All of this started just under two years ago now, in February of 2022, when I had gotten my first-ever golf lessons. To that point, I’d been self-taught, and my swing was an eccentric mix: a baseball-like backswing and a dippy downswing, with thoughts from magazines, websites, television and various muni playing partners sprinkled in. But I’d gotten by. I could even break 80 a handful of times a year. Not bad! But yeah, not good enough. I’d hit my ceiling. You know that feeling. It’s why golf is kinda like a casino to me: It keeps us coming back for more. For that breakthrough. For that moment when it all clicks. Is all of that pleasurable? Maybe. Is all of that an addiction? Perhaps. These are thoughts for another day, though. 

So I asked my new teacher this: Make me over. Top to bottom. And man, did he ever. Backswing. Hip turn. Follow-through. And with mostly everything different, the results were naturally vile. Shanks. Almost every one. 

Almost. There was one. Ooh, this was so cool. My ball started low, ascended, floated like a balloon, then descended. And I wondered: Could I do this again? But it would need work. Maybe a year. Maybe more. I would have to unplug and reboot.

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For only a hope.

It might not work. It would need dedication, too. I’d probably have to give up playing. Or at least the thought of playing well.  


What’s a golfer to do?

Good question! In this space last year, that’s exactly what I asked. To my golf buddy. To my sister. To my nephew. To you, the reader (more on that below). Colleague Josh Sens labeled it golf’s “essential existential question.” Sens is very deep like that. I also asked the question to my wife. She responded this way:

“You know what you should do; I’ve been telling you for weeks: Commit to the new swing! You might still get all crabby in the middle of a round, but at least it will be for a new reason.”

And soon after, as a Christmas gift, she gave me a driving-range pass. Work at it, an accompanying note said. As often as you like. See what happens.   

I had no excuses. 

But you know where this story is headed. 

I went the second week of January. OK. I went the last week of January. Yeah, that’s not enough. I went once in February. Yeah, I’d already failed. I watched college basketball in March. I went back to my old swing in April, when I played my first round of the year. 

I let my wife down. 

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Sort of! It’s here where I’ll just note that my wife actually just laughs at all of this and calls me a bum, and to that, I cannot disagree. 

Anyway, I committed more to what I was doing wrong with my old swing. I wasn’t going to go New Nick, but maybe I could go Old Nick with a coat of paint. Why was I topping the ball? My setup was off. (I often was playing the ball too forward in my stance, and I often stood too far back.) Why was my short game inconsistent? I’d thin chips — so I adjusted my footwork there, too. Why was I missing putts? I needed to play the ball more off my dominant eye (my left one). Why did mistakes compound themselves? I’d rush after bad shots. Bandages. I pieced together some scores this year, too.  

And here we are, back where we were last year. I hope this helps. And yet … 

I’m thinking again. 

As I write this, as I reflect upon the year, as I look ahead, I’m still wondering. It gnaws. There’d be times this year where I tinkered — and LOL’d at how awesome the right move felt. On occasion. Then again, I probably enjoy golf the most for its social aspect. For its hot dogs and beer. 

Then again: No regrets. No what-ifs.

I know what my wife would say.

But this year, I also have this: 

I know what some of you would say, too. 

When I wrote last year’s piece, I got dozens of responses. I think it was therapeutic for folks to write. I think it was therapeutic for me to listen. I learned I wasn’t alone in the thought. I learned there were other ways to look at it all.  

In the coming days, I’ll share the messages. They’re thoughtful. Revealing. Better written than the nonsense above. They deserve their own space on this site. (And if you’re so inclined to share your thoughts now, don’t hesitate to reach out, either through email ( or Twitter @nickpia.)

In the meantime, you know what I’ll be doing:

Checking to see if I can go back to the range in 2024.  

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