What’s your golf philosophy?

Stop and smell the flowers along the way. Take note of the birds while you’re striving for birdies. Remember that even the great Ben Hogan said he only hit one or two shots during a round that came off exactly as he planned. Another great champion Walter Hagen knew he would hit six or seven bad shots a round — and he accepted them as they came along.

Golfing philosophy — it’s easier said than done, more easily discussed at the 19th hole than put into practice during 18 holes on the course. Why should this be? Why is it that we so often enjoy a round of golf in retrospect rather than while we’re playing? Beats me, but I can offer a few model golfers for your inspection. It’s not that these golfers enjoy playing poorly (who does?) but that they’ve put golf in its proper place. Even though these golfers are professionals, they still regard it as a game.

Gracious in defeat

Let’s start with Lorie Kane, the ebullient Prince Edward Islander who won two of the last six tournaments on the LPGA Tour this year. Those were Kane’s first two wins, coming on the heels of the 121 tournaments in which she had played without winning. Kane, who is 35 years old — hary a youngster when it comes to pro golf — was patient during all those tournaments. Moreover, she could be seen smiling tournament after tournament.

Kane had finished second nine times during that stretch. She had lost four playoffs during that extended period. Do you remember watching Kane during any of those tournaments, when she was waiting for a win? Do you remember the look on her face every time she walked off the final green?

A smile. That’s what Kane was wearing. It can’t have been easy for her to smile rather than frown, for her to congratulate her opponent sincerely while hurting inside. But that was natural for Kane. She’s always said that she’s an entertainer as well as a pro golfer, so why shouldn’t she smile and help others enjoy themselves?

Maybe there’s something to learn from Kane. After all, we can’t exactly control what happens on the course. Even Tiger Woods can’t control his environment shot after shot. A ball can bounce the wrong way. A gust of wind can send a ball into a hazard. Just when you think you’re about to win an opponent might birdie the last four holes. That’s golf. Might as well try to take it all in stride.

Take the bad shots in stride

Golf makes it tough to behave like this. It’s an individual sport. Many golfers are attracted to the game because it offers them the chance to go it alone. Golf is one of sport’s ultimate examples of individuality. We live in a society where winning counts for so much, and where every individual is encouraged to believe he or she can improve. It’s hardly surprising that golf should be so popular.

But anxiety can accompany that popularity. The golfer who doesn’t measure up to his expectations often feels defeated. I see such golfers all the time and am guilty myself as I walk along the course with my shoulders slumped, a frown on my face. Flowers? Sunshine? Who cares?

Well, it’s not a bad idea to care and to adopt a healthy golfing philosophy. Tom Watson, whose game I greatly admire, knows that any round is full of both good and bad breaks. Watson used to hole every short putt he looked at, but then his putting from that distance faltered. Asked about his difficulties on the green, Watson answered, “I’ve made my share of putts in my career, that’s for sure.” And he’d say that with a wry smile. He wasn’t smiling when he missed the putts, mind you. But he quickly put the errors behind him. That’s the key. That’s the cornerstone of a sound golf philosophy.

A golfer’s philosophy

We might also consider Nancy Lopez, whose hurt at not winning the U.S. Women’s Open in particular has always been evident. Talk to this gracious and great player about this empty slot in her Hall of Fame record and you will feel her pain; it’s right there. But Lopez long ago dealt with the ups and downs of golf, even at the rarefied level in which she has participated in it.

Think about Lopez and you see her smile. It’s interesting that the smiles that some golfers bring to the game are staying with me as much as their records. Maybe the older we get the more we realize that the way one plays a game truly is important. And you can’t play golf without developing a philosophy about it.

So get mad for an instant when you hit a bad shot. No problem. You do care about your play, after all. “Last week I made a double bogey and didn’t even get mad. Now that’s bad,” Jack Nicklaus once said. Agreed.

Here’s Arnold Palmer on the subject. “Golf is a way of testing ourselves while enjoying ourselves.” Agreed here also.

A test can still be full of pleasure. Now that’s a golfing philosophy for a lifetime. Worth trying, don’t you think?