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It's just a game. It's just a game.

Repeat it a hundred times and you just might start believing it. Golf is unlike any other activity I have ever been courageous (or crazy) enough to attempt.

I love tennis, and even though I may not always be victorious on the court, I generally finish a match with a sense of accomplishment, an elevated heart rate and a pretty accurate analysis of my strengths and weaknesses.

Not so with golf. I often leave the course mentally fatigued. More often than not, I am unable to figure out how I could have hit the same ball with the same club the same way -- and watched it go in two completely different directions.

Give up the game? You've got to be kidding! The life lessons we can learn on a golf course are just too valuable. One of those lessons is that life is unpredictable. We may have a goal in mind. We may even know how to reach it. But, along the way, we will undoubtedly have to find our way out of the sand traps, bunkers and rough spots of life.

The good news is that if we stay focused and positive, and refuse to take ourselves -- or the game -- too seriously, those obstacles will make us stronger and may even provide us with views we never would have seen had we not left the fairway.

Another invaluable lesson we can learn is patience. A few weeks ago, our foursome played behind four gentlemen. One of the men would pick up his ball before each hit and polish it with his towel as if it were the Hope diamond.

His obsessive behavior on the fairway was matched only by his complex technique on the green. After bending and balancing and pacing, I almost expected him to take out a piece of chalk and a yardstick and draw a line from his ball to the hole.

Maddening? Yes. But also an opportunity to practice the valuable art of patience. And I learned something.

Patience isn't just a virtue, it's a gift that encourages us to live in the moment. It's not just about waiting -- it's all about how we wait. I could kill this man with my seven iron, or I could become acutely aware of the moment -- the sounds, the sights, the energy within and around me.

Sound crazy? Try it, not only on the golf course, but in the course of a routine day. When your path is blocked, stop and take a look at where you are and who you are.

And now, one of the tougher lessons for me -- humility. Somewhere inside of me, I am convinced that I could be, or could have been, a great golfer -- if only . . .

Many of us refuse to accept that we can't hit like the pros. However, few of us have stood in a sand trap hour after hour, day after day, and practiced the shot over and over. How do you think they became pros?

No, I'm not suggesting that we emulate the practice habits of the pros. I am, however, suggesting that instead of going out to play a great game of golf and possibly enjoying the view, why not go out to enjoy the view, which is often quite beautiful, and possibly play some great golf?

You see, our golf aptitude is not nearly as important as our golf attitude.

After all, it's just a game.

JOAN GRAVANDA lives in Williamsville.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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