One Doctor's (Little White) Happiness Pill

Decades ago, most physicians spent time on the golf course. More recently, however, the game has declined in popularity for most of today's busy doctors. Columnist Greg Kelly hopes the sport makes a comeback.

“Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course: the distance between your ears.”

—Bobby Jones

This past week the Masters Tournament, the crown jewel of professional golf, was contested. I have very fond memories of this annual spring event held in Augusta, GA — it‘s how I really first connected with my physician-dad. Together, we watched the Masters in April for over 25 years.

Dad imbued in me a love of golf, The Masters, and Arnold Palmer. He revered Palmer, but by the time I was watching, Arnie had long ceased being a factor at the Masters. Still, he was a legend there — during the Age of Palmer at The Masters (1957-1967) he won 4 times, finished second twice, third once, and was never out of the top 10. To this day, he’s my all-time favorite golfer.

My father was an enthusiastic golfer and my recollection is that during his many years of medical practice, most of his physician colleagues were too. Sadly, it appears the game has declined in popularity for most of today’s busy doctors. Less than 15% of physicians admit to being golfers, according to a 2014 work/life survey by the AMA. That’s too bad.

Dad used golf as a major stress reducer in so many ways — as participant, spectator, reader, and collector. On the course he bonded with fellow doctors and taught the game to his family. He was content playing golf and the pressures of medicine seemed to melt away. Today’s unhappy doctors should give it a try.

I figure I played some 200 rounds of golf with my dad. It was his passion — right up until the end (his only 2 holes-in-one came after his 75th birthday). He first learned to play while a Navy officer stationed in the Pacific during World War II. Before an illness in the 1950s messed up his legs, dad was a single-digit handicap golfer.

Just consider some of golf’s benefits: good exercise, fresh air, improved focus, strategy development, confidence builder, learned humility, and competitive spirit. Besides, few things in life can top a beautiful day on the course with good friends or family.

Dad also did business on the course. He had a large group of doctor buddies (of varying medical specialties) he played with regularly. And he wasn’t afraid to use his connections as a doctor to get on some very exclusive course — he played many of the great ones in America, Scotland, and Ireland.

I remember my dad telling me that a person’s true nature could be found on the golf course. During my life of playing golf, I found that he was onto something there. I don’t know how dad would react to the growing dissatisfaction among today’s doctors, but perhaps they can find a renewed spirit on the golf course.

For the 85% of doctors who aren’t playing, here’s how to make a start:

• Invest in a set of decent golf clubs and shoes. Golf is an equipment driven sport and it’s important to look and feel the part.

• Take a few lessons from a local golf professional. Oftentimes, some quick tips from a teaching pro can start you off on the foot or help correct some nagging swing problems.

• Buy some golf books: “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf”(1957) by Ben Hogan and “The Golf Doctor: How to Play a Better, Healthier Round of Golf”(1996) by Bill Mallon, MD are a good beginning. You need to walk and talk the game.

• Join a club in your area (with golf now in semi-decline nationwide, many private clubs are offering good membership deals), and commit to playing every week. Good golf is all about repetition.