Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lessons Learned from Watching Golf

This summer's protracted heat wave has forced me inside, abandoning my regular summer routines of working in the yard. In an effort to remain cool, I have found PGA golf. My new routine is to attend Sunday morning worship, have dinner, and then head to the "man cave" to watch the world's best golfers.

What started as an exercise in keeping cool has now becoming an eagerly anticipated routine. I've even begun following a few of the more notable players: Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, John Daly, and Zach Johnson. It's been interesting observing players as they navigate course layouts and conditions, interface with spectators in the gallery, and rise up to face the pressure of playing in these high-stakes tournaments. And my observing has not gone unrewarded either; I've learned some life lessons watching these men compete.

Here are seven for your consideration:

One: Never give up. Even if you dump your tee shot in a fairway bunker and your opponent is smack dab in the middle of the fairway, that doesn't mean the hole's a bust. You can still win it by reminding yourself it's a game where every shot counts. A great bunker shot against an opponent's fair-to-good approach shot has won the hole more than a few times in golf. The man who loses hope, however, might as well put his sticks back in his bag.

Two: Keep calm. Many a player going into the home stretch has blown his lead -- and the round -- by succumbing to pressure. I've watched plenty of golfers have their wheels come off, as they blow a short putt, shank one into the woods, or find the water. The ones getting their names engraved on the trophy Sunday afternoon are the ones who rein in their adrenalized nerves. The man who can keep his emotions in check is more likely to get the check.

Three: A miss is a miss. I've watched leaders squirrel away a first-place finish by missing a putt of a few inches. Those inches loom large when you consider the difference between first and second place. As someone once said, "Second place is the first loser." A miss by a foot costs just as much as a miss by six inches. Golf is not like horseshoes and hand grenades: close enough never is.

Four: Rules count. I've watched players drop a ball out of a hazard three times, before they could play their next shot. The smallest deviation from the rules requires them to drop again. A strict adherence and enforcement of the rules is important to the outcome of the tournament. The savvy man follows the rules, even when no one is watching.

Five: A great drive means nothing, if the next shot is a disaster. A golfer, who sends one through the stratosphere, positioning himself beautifully for a birdie attempt, can still bogie the hole -- or worse -- with an approach shot that sails over the green and finds the drainage ditch. It's a funny thing: every shot, every hole -- they all matter.

Six: Know when to lay up. I've watched as golfers try hard to reach the green, only to find it was outside their distance. The result? They lose the hole to their opponent, who, of course, more wisely, laid up, positioned himself for the putt and dropped it in the bucket for par. A man who understands his skill level can strategize his game accordingly.

Seven: Know the lay of the land. A golfer who misreads the break in the green will surely miss the cup. It's important to know the lay of the land (the breaks, dips, speed, ground hardness, etc.) and how the ball will react with the surface. A winner needs to understand his environment and how it impacts him.

Perhaps one of the reasons golf has such a broad appeal is the way it mirrors life. We can see ourselves in the game we play, when we're honest about it. We know instinctively how we should make a lot of the shots before us, but impatience, lack of confidence, nerves, or our roaming attention span has us giving away the hole -- and the game -- more times than we'd care to admit. We can expect more of the same, if we resist making the necessary adjustments to play better.

The choice is up to us.

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