Golf is an amazing mirror of life. Yes, other sports provide life lessons as well, but golf happens to be my favorite sport and the one I understand the best. It is an addiction, a mystical experience, a test of character, an escape, a source of rare joy and excruciating pain. No psychological test will tell you as much about a person’s character as a round of golf. With the arrival of spring, here are some of my observations about golf and the game of life:
1. Expectations & Flexibility. Golf, like life, is not mastered in a season, and it is particularly frustrating if we approach it with stiff and inflexible expectations. Great golf begins with stretching, bending, loosening up, and matching my desired outcomes with the realities of a body grown lazy over the winter. A sense of humor, and a sprinkling of humility go a long way!
2. Clarity of Purpose. Many golfers never stop to think about why they play the game. To win? To have fun? For social reasons, or for the challenge? For the exercise? Just as striving to become rich and famous often creates frustration and disappointment, few will ever play professionally, and striving for perfection is a setup for “failure”. Know why you play the game and where you find your satisfaction and joy in it.
3. Equipment. Most golfers play with clubs that don’t fit them, or that no longer suit their games. Graphite shafts and new club designs have revolutionized golf. Active golfers should have their clubs checked for loft, lie, and length, and have them re-gripped every season. Almost any job is easier with the right tools.
4. Solid Foundations. Golfers go to extremes. Some take lesson after lesson, trying to fix the tiniest flaw in their quest for the perfect swing. Others, ignore the classic foundations of grip, stance and swing in their eagerness to “do it my way.” Success is usually found in a healthy balance of learning from the wisdom and experience of others, while celebrating your unique style and approach to the game.
5. Profitable Practice. On the day of a big tournament, I often go to the practice green and watch skilled, dedicated golfers practice missing putts. With a small crowd milling about, they quickly hit putt after putt, destroying their rhythm, timing and confidence. Then, in frustration, they wonder what ever happened to their carefully honed putting stroke! In golf, and in life, practice smart. Practice for success!
6. Smart Preparation. Tour players always play practice rounds. Ben Hogan used to walk the course at twilight before a tournament to learn all it’s hidden tricks and traps. Top players rehearse every shot in their imagination before going to the course. They prepare in advance so they are ready when the moment of truth arrives. It pays off.
7. Show up. The biggest challenge for many Nike Tour and other young players is to play their best golf without a nickel in their pocket, often lonely and far from home. They have reasons to be distracted. What are your excuses? Ram Das said, “Be here now.” In golf, and in life, it’s hard to win if you don’t show up, or only show up for every-other swing!
8. Warm up. Every great athlete, the ones in the best physical and mental shape, respect their bodies enough to loosen up, stretch and rehearse before competition. Unfortunately, most amateurs don’t go to all that trouble. We jump out of the car, grab the clubs, and head for the first tee. Before any important event, arrive early, walk around, relax, and warm up to the task at hand.
9. Focus on Results. Every golf stroke creates a result. Sometimes the ball goes in the hole; sometimes it goes out of bounds. Golfers tend to focus (1) on the result they would have preferred, which is merely wishful thinking, or (2) on beating themselves up for being so “stupid”, which is painful. Learn from every swing. Observe the results you actually get. Life never lies!
10. Review and Adjust. If you aren’t getting the results you want, find the reason. You can trust the ball; it goes where you hit it. If you want a different outcome, change your setup, routine, or other actions until you get the result you prefer. Someone said, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a mark of insanity.” Successful people learn quickly; others learn eventually.