With congratulations to fly-fisher Wyndham Clark on winning the U.S. Open and making all anglers proud!
When I watch professional golf, I root for the anglers.
Because many of the best golfers throughout history have also had a genuine passion for fly fishing. From Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo to Johnny Miller and Mark O’Meara—and dozens and dozens of others—there’s an undeniable link between the two sports that runs much deeper than their ancestral roots.
It’s all about the mindset.
So, as I watched Wyndham Clark grind his way through the back nine at Los Angeles Country Club at the U.S. Open last Sunday, I couldn’t help but find myself pulling for the guy. Yeah, partly because he’s a Coloradan, but also because I’d seen a glimpse of how much he likes to fish (and why he approaches fly fishing for all the best reasons).
If you want to get good at fly fishing, you should play more golf. And if you want to get good at golf, you might consider spending more time fly fishing.
For the record, if you’re going to chase one or the other as a career you might lean toward golf. Because, having taken the other fork in that road, I can tell you that throwing tight loops at tarpon over 80 feet and being a pretty decent hatch-matcher on a trout river will never pay anywhere close to where a 300-yard drive and robo-mechanics with a putter will. (But the competition is a lot stiffer in the golf world.)
So long as it’s all for fun, however, consider the crossover similarities:
I think the most important correlation is that both golf and fly fishing are really games about problem-solving and managing failures. Which is perfect for a type-A like me.
Both games are all about what happens next. Wash away what just occurred—good or bad—and move on.
They’re about thinking, and making a plan, and executing on that plan. If you play a four-and-a-half-hour round of golf, how much of that time is actually spent swinging a club or putting? Mere minutes. The rest of the time is all about strategy.
Fly anglers can learn so, so much, and be so much more effective if only they’d take a page from the golfer’s book on strategy. You can flog the water and make blind shots all day long—and that might be perfectly fine when you’re prospecting with streamers or nymph flies. But when you see that big head popping up on a trout river, or you see that bonefish tailing on the flat—you need to put that mentality in the locker and bring out the A-game. Sight-fishing with a fly rod should be like attacking a green in a Major. You need a plan—understanding where the shot goes, and why—before you even step into the tee box.
Golfers can learn from the angling experience also. I’ve found that the more I got in touch with the land (and water) around me as I golfed, and started thinking in the same context that I would as I’m reading a river, the lower scores I shot. Tuning into your immediate environment is the angler’s forte, and golfers can learn quite a bit about managing their surroundings once they’ve stood knee-deep in a river more than a few times.
Of course, the greatest similarity—and aspiration—for any golfer, or angler (or the crazies who happen to do both)—is how both sports can put you in a good headspace where you learn more about yourself.
Beyond that, there are paths that lead to respect for the games themselves—not only in terms of how they should be played, the rules, the etiquette, and all that, but also the community, the culture and most importantly, the deep appreciation of the places where these beautiful games take place.
At the end of the day, for us mere mortals, it’s a lot deeper than numbers on a scorecard, or how many fish end up in your net.
Kirk Deeter is the editor-in-chief of TROUT magazine, a mid-handicap golfer, and the co-author with the late Charlie Meyers of The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing, which was by no coincidence inspired by Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf.