In sports, consistency may be a word that can have a double meaning

When it comes to the world of athletics, consistency is a word that is used again and again. Considering that the word itself means just that repeating something over and over it seems appropriate that we use the term.

Coaches are looking for consistency from their players. Athletes want consistency in their performance. Both are looking for consistency from the officials who work the games.

A couple of days ago I read about Columbian’s volleyball match. The coach was very happy with his team’s consistency. I’m telling you folks, we all want to see and hear that simplest of terms. “We were very consistent tonight,” is a much sought after comment by all that follow the sports scene.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret here. Consistency is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Let’s take the sport of baseball for example. An umpire that calls a strike on every pitch that hits in the dirt is consistent. Of course, that would be consistently bad, but it’s what we want, right?

Likewise, a basketball player that cannot make a free throw to save his life (Wilt the Stilt and Shaq come to mind) is consistent if not hard to watch. Whatever happened to the Rick Barry method? Do you remember him shooting free throws in the NBA underhanded? He was both consistent and very good.

Despite the double meaning, we golfers seek consistency of the good kind of course. We all want to drive the ball consistently. That means long and straight. We want to strike our iron shots consistently, making good contact and hitting it where we are aiming. Putting, you ask? We want to give every putt, no matter the length, a chance to go in the cup. That, my friends, is consistency.

How successful we are at achieving consistency is certainly debatable. I can tell you one thing about my golf game this summer: It has been consistently inconsistent.

I have more birdies this season than I have had in years. I have had enough that I am keeping track of them. Twenty-five birdies and one eagle would lead one to believe that I am playing very consistently, if not tremendously well. That would be incorrect as I have also recorded more of the dreaded “others” than would be the norm. I even have a couple of examples of my striving for consistency. Against my better judgment, I am going to share them with you.

The first happened about ten days ago in my league. I am sitting in the fairway on No. 3 at Loudon Meadows, only 100 yards from the pin. For me this is a smooth 9-iron shot. For you longer hitters, quit shaking your head. I’m old and I despise my pitching wedge, so a 9-iron it is.

I really like this club and the yardage, but when I hit the ball I watched in amazement as I shanked the ball into the woods some 30 yards to my right. I immediately pulled another ball from my pocket, dropped it and without too much thought hit again. The results were nearly identical to the shot I just hit.

My playing partners are shaking their heads if not laughing a little. I told them to go ahead and finish the hole as I went off to play Leonard Nimoy (remember his show “In Search Of”). I could say something about my consistency at this point, but since I only found one of the balls I hit, I guess I wasn’t totally consistent. I could not put down a bucket of balls and duplicate those shots if I tried, but two stinkers right in a row? Ah, consistency.

The following Wednesday my traveling circus went to Green Hills in Clyde. It was a beautiful day and I could use the term to describe my game, well at least for a while. After a birdie on the 11th hole I was even par. I went to the 15th tee a respectable two over par and hit a drive that did not quite reach the top of the hill.

I have an uphill lie and am nearly 300 yards from the green, so I decide to take my driver and have a rip. Now, I have used this club before, normally with decent results, but the golf gods must have been watching and decided to pull a prank on me. I lost my balance as I swung the club and nearly whiffed. Instead I topped the ball and it went a total of some 50 yards. Twenty of those were forward and 30 yards were to my left. Again I am not sure what happened other than losing my balance. I went to the ball and decided to give the driver another try. In hindsight, perhaps that was a mistake.

I told my playing partners that I had slipped on the previous shot and this would be a better stance. It was; the shot wasn’t. I hit the exact same shot without slipping this time and again provided comic relief to those watching me.

So, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from my antics. Striving for consistency is still a good idea in the sporting world. Be careful though. Consistently good is much better than consistently bad. When the ugly shots mount one can only think of the word in the following context.

Ah, consistency, thou art a heartless

Al Stephenson is the golf columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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