Fly Fishing Jazz: The Irish Golf Lesson

Casting Sea of Cortez

Fighting the wind in the Sea of Cortez. Photo Tim Romano

A FEW WEEKS AGO, I had the great honor of playing 18 holes at Enniscrone Golf Club, in County Sligo, Ireland, with club manager Pat Sweeney.

Pat is a soft-spoken gentleman of the best Irish kind, which was a good thing, because Enniscrone is a severe, unforgiving test for the American golfer—tall dunes (under which the ancient Irish buried Viking invaders after they had killed them all), grassy rough that stands taller and thicker than bunchweed on the Montana prairie, and all made tougher by the howling winds pouring from the Atlantic.

Classic links golf is to American “target” golf what saltwater fly fishing is to trout fishing on a river—different sports, same equipment.

I had practiced hard before I went to Ireland, honing my golf game as best I could. And I was rewarded on the first tee, smacking my drive straight away, 270 yards down the middle of a rolling fairway. But as I turned to set up for my second shot (at a dogleg-right to the green), I found myself staring straight down a near-tunnel of hills and grass, and the wind chapped my face.

“You’d do best to keep your next shot low,” Pat whispered over my shoulder, as I stood over the ball. I didn’t.

The 7-iron took flight straight at the pin, but was blown off the mark and into the rough. It cost me two strokes—and I made double bogey.

Later, on a par 5, I launched a solid drive that trickled just off the fairway, again into the tall stuff.

“What letter is on the bottom of your club?” Pat asked, gently.

“Seven,” I answered (thinking I might still advance the ball 150 yards toward the pin).

“That’s no letter… I’d trade your ‘seven’ for a ‘P,’” he smiled.  “Accept your punishment like a man—put it back in the fairway, and make another shot.” This time, I listened, and salvaged par.

To further prove his point, Pat made his own par on that hole by whacking a solid drive, then putting four times. A modest smash—three solid, steady, wind-proof strokes—then a gentle roll that covered the last eight feet to the cup, true as the foam on a pint of Guinness.

I couldn’t help but think of an analogy to fly casting, especially in the wind.

We’re all dialed in on making the “hero shot.” And those long, lacy loops are beautiful to watch. When they land on target, of course, they are gratifying.

But by using the space between your ears, you learn that form never trumps function. Put the elements in your favor, or at least don’t fight against them. Advancing your body into position where you have 90%-plus accuracy is always better than the textbook distance toss. It doesn’t matter how ugly it is, how flat it flies, whether you flip it, roll it, or shoot it like an arrow from a bow. Accuracy is always more important than distance.

And when you miss, when you make a sloppy shot that splashes off-target and spoils the run, take your medicine, and set up for the next shot somewhere else.

You can fight the wind, or you can play the wind. As for me, I’ll choose the latter, on the links, and on the river. Always.