I watched the final round of the World Golf Championships on Sunday. I like to play golf, although my game bears little resemblance to that of the pros who make a living playing it. While I have a 14 handicap and have only broken 90 on rare occasions, these guys seem to rarely make a bad shot. This week’s tournament was a little different because it was played on a newly redesigned golf course near Miami where both the field’s lack of familiarity with the design changes and the winds from the Atlantic Ocean proved to be major factors in the high scoring of the competitors.
On a course nicknamed ”The Blue Monster”, there were more balls errantly hit in the water over the course of the 4 days than at any time in the tournament’s history. I suppose it was to be expected given the proximity of water to many of the fairways and greens after the major re-design. Still, in many years of being a golf fan, I’ve never seen a tournament where every single player took at least one penalty stroke for a hitting a ball out-of-bounds, in the water, or in one case, up a palm tree.
Watching these guys grind out their mistake prone rounds in unfamiliar territory and tough conditions got me to thinking. Hell, that looks a lot like the way most of us live our lives, much less the way we duffers play golf.
Sometimes during the telecast, a ”shot tracker” is used to show a replay of the ball flight from the time of impact off the player’s clubface until the ball lands. The bright red stripe of the ball’s path is a visual treat allowing the viewer to see the shot shapes these pros can produce, or, as was the case this weekend, how far off course a 30 mile per hour wind can push a golf ball. I remember one such ”shot tracker” sequence as a player took a hard swing at a ball buried in scrub grass behind a palm tree, that had to be played under some branches with a right to left slicing path to try to get the ball to land on the green for a chance at putting. In the best of conditions, it would have taken a perfect, near miraculous shot. The pro made solid contact, but with the poor lie, he failed to impart the correct spin on the ball that was also being pushed by a gusting breeze and it didn’t curve towards the green. Instead it crashed into the grandstand behind his intended target. The replay of the shot using the ”shot tracker’ looked like a laser guided missile from under the trees at the right hand of the fairway on an intentional line into the gallery. The red line on the television screen couldn’t have been drawn straighter by hand with a sharpie and a ruler. If the golfer had wanted to hit the ball at the spectators, he could not have done so any better. Fortunately, no one was injured. The person the ball bounced off of got an autographed glove. The player was awarded a ”free drop” out of the stands because his ball was unplayable from the box seats under a lady’s purse, and he luckily went on to salvage his par. His attempt at a miracle shot could just have easily resulted in a double-bogey.
Like Will Smith’s classic line on his first date with Eva Mendes in the movie “Hitch” when he says, “I didn’t see it going that way in my mind,” the golfer couldn’t have seen his shot happen the way it did in his mind during his pre shot routine. These guys are masters of visualization. Yes, they take several practice swings with their club to “feel” the shot before they take their real one, but mostly they are imagining exactly what shape and trajectory is needed to land the ball at a specific target. This ability to imagine and ”see” the shot that’s required, and then the physical skills and talent to make that vision a reality is what sets them apart and makes many of them multi-millionaires as the reward for playing the world’s most frustrating game. Knowing firsthand the inherent difficulties of playing golf well, it fascinates me that the pros have this exceptional combination of imagination, focus, and talent to consistently produce incredible golf shots…except when it doesn’t turn out that way…like the shot into the grandstand.
Which brings me back to the way I figure you and I live our lives. Most of the time, when faced with a decision or difficult situation, we probably have no “pre shot” routine. We just step up to a decision and ”hit it!” I know that’s too frequently been the case with myself. When making everyday decisions, I foolishly trust my instincts in spite of the fact that too often my instincts are driven by emotions like frustration, anxiety, fear, or pride.
For times like that, times when I’m in a hurry, or responding to an unforeseen crisis, or just don’t give a damn at the moment, I wish there was something that would go off in my head and give me a “pre-shot tracker”. I wish I could see beforehand what the ramifications of my decisions were going to be. If the golfer on Sunday had known he was about to fire a rifle shot into the stands, he would likely have stepped away from the ball, considered his alternatives, and maybe found a better place to “miss”.
I intend to learn from this. It’s not always possible to slow down enough to effectively calculate the consequences of words and actions. Some days, life comes very fast and feels very unfamiliar; leaving me ill prepared to respond well. It feels a lot more like a hockey game than a leisurely round of golf. I’ve hit enough “bad shots” playing golf to know what can happen to my score if I don’t take my time, see the shot, line up, and keep my head down through the swing. If you’re like me, you’ve probably hit your share of “bad shots” in life as well. I am gradually learning to stop trusting my “gut” when faced with a crisis. My gut reactions are almost 100% of the time patterned emotional responses deeply ingrained from past traumas, and are therefore defensive and shortsighted. In such cases, I might successfully blow off steam, protect myself, state my case, or “give someone a piece of my mind”, but rarely do I achieve the results I desire without serious, conscientious intention. So, I’m learning to try to relax and breathe and give my self permission to look one more time at the real result I want my words or actions to accomplish, and not just to “swing hard”, and results be damned!
As Sunday proved for a fabulous field of very talented golfers, sometimes knowing where to safely miss a shot is just as important as trying to pull off a perfect swing in imperfect conditions. As much as possible, I am going to think more on the front end. I’m going to try to see what my actions are going to produce and where the “ball” might end up. At least, I want to learn to miss in a safe place and not take as many penalty strokes in life. And I’m hoping that in my mind I’ll see a “pre-shot” tracker that will cause me to hesitate and take one more look rather than flailing away mindlessly.