For people who love golf, the slice of land that makes up the first tee represents a gathering place, a joyous reunion, a circle of friends, and an inviting spot to offload the pains and troubles of the week.

It’s a place of hope and optimism (however misplaced).

No clubs have been swung in anger yet. All the chatter is bouncy and positive. There might be a great new joke to spread around. Maybe a sparkling new sleeve of balls, still innocent and perfect, to break open.

Everybody has their drivers at the ready, practicing the grand swings that will bring the course to its knees. They all look like gladiators, ready to take on both the lions and the centurions.

No one has hit a 7 iron fat. No one has watched a putt leak off to the left. No one has triple-bogeyed an easy par 3. No one has needed four swings to escape a bunker.

It’s all happiness and light, the start to a fun day with pals – four-plus hours of escape and bright possibility.

But…fast forward to the 18th green. 

It’s a par five, but Player A has needed five shots to reach the fringe of the green. He three-putts from there. Player B has shanked his second shot into the stream that parallels the fairway. Player C two-putts from 10 feet for a bogey. Player D is Mr. Grumpy, having already retreated to his golf cart in shame without finishing the hole.

From the first tee to the final green, the golf round can be a wonderful study of psychology on so many levels. What starts as a great adventure can develop into a fight to stay under triple digits, a fight to avoid extreme embarrassment, a fight to try to remain friends with guys who suddenly turn into demons from a deep valley of golf hell, and, in the most unfortunate of circumstances, a fight itself.

How is this possible? It’s only four hours (or five, or six if you play at one of those courses). How can things go so dramatically wrong in such a relatively short trip across the green grass of your favorite 18?

The answer is in the crashing down of expectations.

You remember those. You expected to date the homecoming queen your senior year. Instead, you got the sophomore who finished in eighth place. You expected to get promoted to vice president. Instead, the guy down the hall who buttered up the boss was promoted. You expected to be able to afford a Corvette by age 30. Instead, you’re driving an ancient Corolla with paint so faded that none of your golfing buddies will ride with you.

And now you arrive at the first green with expectations. 

Take a hint: Curb that enthusiasm.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.