What Podcasters Can Learn From Their Golf Game

I have a friend who’s a long-haul pilot for a major airline. Because his job takes him all over the globe, often with half a day or more of downtime, he told me he was thinking about taking up golf as a hobby, and asked if I would go with him to help him shop for clubs. At the time, I was a good person to ask because I’d been spending a bunch of time with the local rep from a club manufacturer, and was toward the end of what would be a streak where I played at least nine holes every day for 29 days in a row. In retrospect that streak probably should have stopped by Day 24, which I spent as the only one on the course in a 42-degree rainstorm and probably led to me being too sick to play on Day 30.

He told me the budget he had in mind, which led me to the conclusion that airline pilots make a lot more money than I thought they did. But let’s pretend, for the sake of nice, round, divisible numbers, that he said he had earmarked $3,000 for this adventure.

I told him he shouldn’t spend a dime more than $1,500. Let me explain why because although the title says, “Podcasters”, what I’m about to share applies to pretty much any hobby, or even any semi-serious venture into a new profession or side hustle, whether it’s learning to play golf, learning to cook or learning to make things out of wood.

In the case of my pilot friend, we were absolutely going to spend all of his $3,000 budget. Just not the way he was expecting to.

My advice was to spend fifteen hundred on clubs, and the other fifteen hundred on learning how to use them. Same if you’ve got a thousand bucks to spend on your journey toward becoming a chef – spend five hundred on pans and knives, and the other five hundred on lessons. Budding carpenters, same thing. Spend half on the tools, the other half on instruction.

It’s true for a ton of reasons.

First of all, spending fifteen hundred bucks on a set of golf clubs – like spending five hundred on cooking gear or a couple hundred on a microphone – will give you tools that are good enough to figure out whether this new obsession is something you should even be spending your time on.

If you get so good at golf that you can legitimately start to wonder whether your $1,500 clubs are holding you back, that’s when you go all-in and buy more expensive stuff. And how do you get good enough to need more expensive gear? Lessons. Build the skills you need to get good. There’s not a golfer on the planet – and I will die on this incredibly insignificant hill – who will not improve as a result of having watched their swing on video with a teacher who can point out exactly what’s causing their slice, or whatever else is ailing them. And none of the YouTube videos, DVD sets or rounds with your buddies playing for beers will ever help you as much as a skilled professional who’s working with you, watching your swing, and figuring out the specific thing that you need to tweak.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to make a YouTube video that would teach you how to putt. For that matter, I’d love to watch a YouTube video that would teach how to putt, but that’s a different conversation. And I’d love to have Google stuffing money in my pocket because three million people watched a video in the last two years that took me twenty minutes to make. But what are the chances that every single one of those three million people are lousy at putting for exactly the same reason? That all of them grip the club exactly the same way? That they’re all identical heights, weights and builds? That they all use the same putter? That none of them are left-handed?

A YouTube video can show you how to hold a chef’s knife. It can’t look at how you hold the knife and tweak where you’ve placed your pinky. Or account for your remarkably tiny fingers. Or help you figure out whether the 255-gram W├╝sthof is too heavy, and you need to downshift to something about 190 grams.

I think we can safely move on from that point, because there are other similarities, too.

One of the things that has been in the rulebooks on the PGA Tour for as long as anyone can remember is that if you’re going to compete in a professional golf tournament, you and your caddy have to walk the course. It’s part of the game. Riding in a cart? Then you’re not a professional golfer. Part of what separates the pros from the beer cart aficionados is that the pros don’t take shortcuts. Nobody on the pro tour pulls out a range finder so they know the precise distance to the hole. If they really need to know, they walk the distance so they know how far it is. If they want to get a sense of the wind, they don’t pull out a portable anemometer. They grab a few blades of grass and toss them up to see what the wind does with them. Are there tech shortcuts they could employ? Sure. But then you’re not golfing – at least not at a professional level.

Like I said at the outset, that metaphor is practically universal. If you want the sous chef’s job at a Michelin three-star restaurant, your signature recipe had better not include a microwave, or a bag of frozen diced onions. You build fine furniture? Out of particleboard? Hate to be the one to tell you, but no, you don’t.

Opinion here that I’m probably going to take heat for: Shortcuts are rarely used by people who possess the underlying skill. I’ll let podcasters fill in their own blanks here, but if you’ve mastered the art of the hand-tossed pizza crust, something ready-made is an insult to your skillset. If you can really sing, you don’t need auto-tune. You’ll never find one of those Billy bookcases in a carpenter’s house. Like, not even in the kids’ room. A business that takes the art of marketing seriously will never have content or a commercial that was written by an Artificial Intelligence bot. And an airline pilot who hopes to have a job tomorrow would never dream of using auto-pilot to land.

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