$#!% Storm of a Week or What Golf Teaches Us About Dealing With Tough Times

You know what happened and I’m not going to bring up the details.

I’m playing golf tomorrow morning. It’s, very literally, the one thing that can take my mind off of anything. It’s my moment of zen that lasts four hours. I golf when I’m down; I golf when I’m up; and anywhere in-between. Tomorrow is one of those golfing when I’m down rounds.

I read an article, passed around the twittersphere, earlier this week by the Fred Rogers Company that talked about looking for “the helpers” during times of tragedy. Listening to Mr. Rogers giving advice to parents for talking with their children about communities in crisis nearly brought me to tears. So poignant, indeed, were his words that article after article after article after article after article were written about them. And people helped, I think in no small part, because of his advice.

Living and working in the DC area makes it tough to help in a concrete way those folks in Boston or Texas. So, I think I’ll offer my two cents on what golf can teach us about dealing with difficult times. And, there’s a metaphor here if you’re patient until the end…

At the Masters, Tiger got an unlucky break. On an approach shot, the ball hit the pin and ricocheted into a water hazard. His reaction to it was to take a drop and play the next shot. He didn’t throw a hissy-fit, yell, slam his club into the ground, punch his caddy in the face, or otherwise go completely apoplectic. He could have, that’s for sure, but he didn’t. Why?

Because those types of things happen all the time in golf. For every lucky bounce you get, it seems like a bad one happens on the next hole. A hole out from the fairway on two; a lost ball on three.

Here’s what I try to do when I hit a bad shot or get a bad break: act like it’s a normal shot. There’s no reason to get upset and throw a temper tantrum. The ball is already at rest, and I’ve already hit the shot. There’s nothing I can do now except to go hit it again.

Giving voice to the bad, making a scene, and working myself up can only carry over to the next shot. The last thing I want is to be standing over my ball pissed because it’s in the trees. I have to give my full attention to the shot at hand. I can’t do that if my mind is filled with vitriol because of that bird that squawked right in the middle of my backswing.

Don’t let one bad shot ruin the hole. Don’t let one bad hole ruin your whole round.

However, on a good shot, I give plenty of voice to that — even saying to myself, “Good shot, Luke.” Sometimes I go a little overboard and tell my playing partners that I’m impressed with the shot I just hit. It may sound like I’m being a conceited jerk but really I’m just celebrating something that I’ve worked hard for or, better yet, something that I just got lucky on!

When others hit a good shot or get a good break, I always make sure to praise their effort and the result. Why? Because it’s important that others hear that they’ve done well and that I recognize their accomplishment. And it’s important, not just to them but, to me. I need to say those things because they give me a positive feeling on my next shot.

Hint: you never ever (ever) say anything when someone hits a shot with bad results. They know the results aren’t ideal; they don’t need to be told. Also, you wouldn’t want to hear anything after a shot you’ve hit was lost forever in the trees. Just let it be.

This sounds a lot like my mother’s favorite pastor, Joel Osteen, who would say don’t dwell on past mistakes but look to the future and what is waiting in store for you. There’s great advice in that. In life, when things are seemingly falling apart, recognize that it is what it is, clear it from your mind, and make the next move.

Say thank you to the guy that says, “Great shot!” after you hit a shot with good results. He’s your helper.



It’s Your Turn

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to get a round in at the PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville, MD. It’s a gem of a course – plush fairways, smooth rolling greens, variety of tee boxes, ample PB Dye marketing, and a great clubhouse to grab a dog at the turn and a beer after the round. That’s the focus of this post: the turn.

The turn is the transition from the front nine to the back nine; hole 9 to 10. It’s one of the most overlooked parts of a round. It’s the halfway point – a milestone or benchmark, if you will – that is given a lot of words but not much time for consideration. “Made the turn at 2-over. Finished with an eighty-eight.” “The Masters doesn’t really start until the turn on Sunday.” “Think we got time to stop by the car at the turn?”

I view the turn in a slightly different light. It’s an opportunity to relax a bit between nines, to grab a dog, maybe a beer, apply some sunscreen, wash the hands, and get ready for the next nine. It’s also a time to meet new people, take a break with your group, and take an already social game to the next level…

A big complaint in golf, right now, is that it takes too long — play is slow. This is true. Every player walking off yardages down to the inch, taking five practice swings before every shot, reading putts from every angle, marking their ball when they have a six-incher, and going back-and-forth about who’s away, guarantees at least a 5 hour round. Once in a while, though, it’s worth setting aside a few minutes to enjoy the company of the group you’re with.

A few months ago, a friend of mine had the brilliant idea of starting a Facebook group of golfers – friends, co-workers, strangers – for the purpose of setting up tee-times over the spring and summer. We put together two foursomes to go out to Langston on a freezing Saturday morning. We were basically the only people on the course. On the front nine, each of us plotted our way around, barely speaking except to say, “It’s cold.”

At the turn, however, we spent a solid twenty minutes updating each other on our work, families, jokes, memories, and everything in between. Yeah, we could have just grabbed a dog and made our way out but, instead, we took some time to know each other better. Cold, though we were, we made our way back into the elements and enjoyed the rest of our round. I’m not suggesting that every group, every round, needs to take twenty minutes with their playing partners in the grill. I’m just suggesting that, if you’re going to be out there, get to know the folks you’re going to spend another two hours with. I promise the back-nine will be much more pleasant. You’ll probably play better, too.

Also, this…

I was chipping in my bed room on Friday night before my round at PB Dye. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a great way to get the feel for chipping after a long winter season. I noticed that I was gripping the club like I would grip a putter — too much club in the palm of my left hand. I was losing accuracy and distance in a big way. I fixed my grip.

When I got out to PB Dye, I was hitting everything longer and straighter. What’s the problem with that? I wasn’t used to it. I shot a pretty decent 41 on the front. My friend and I took a 15 minute break in the clubhouse at the turn, talking with the bartender, and discussing how impressive the greens were even though they’d recently been aerated and sanded. In my mind, however, I was thinking, “club down and aim at the pin…club down and aim at the pin.”

On the back nine, I shot a one-over 37. Shockingly great play given my previous several rounds.

That would not have happened if I just went straight on to the 10th hole as soon as I was done with 9.

The point: take some time at the turn.