The 9th hole on Doral’s Blue Monster is a deceivingly difficult Par 3, particularly for those who don’t play it on a regular basis. Its difficulty doesn’t stem from its length. In fact, by today’s standards, its length (169 yards from the back tees) is average at best, if not a bit on the short side. Moreover, the green complex, though a bit misshapen and narrow in spots, is hardly what today’s touring pro would consider severe. Rather, what makes the 9th Hole a bit diabolical at times is that it abuts a large lake that juts out in front of the green. When the wind blows off the lake (even a little), which it often does, that inlet gobbles up golf balls like a Venus Fly Trap. The problem is: You really can’t fully appreciate the presence or strength of the wind up by the green when you’re standing on the tee box. Thus, what can appear as a near perfect shot in the air one minute can seemingly fall out the sky and into a watery grave the next. Only those who’ve been “victimized” by that unpleasant phenomena appreciate the need to “club up” when the small “white caps” appear on the ripples in the lake – sometimes as many as two clubs!
One summer, my son played in a junior golf tournament on the Blue, which, at the time, was his home course. I just happened to be caddying for him. When we reached the 9th tee, there were two groups still waiting to tee off. Greg and I looked at each other with a knowing smile – it was one of “those” days. The pin was temptingly placed toward the front of the green, which, under ordinary circumstances, would only require a tournament-caliber player to hit an 8-iron and, as it were, those standing on the tee while we watched were trying to do just that, unable to figure out why one shot after the next kept falling short – in the water. There was golf carnage going on reminiscent of the final scene in Tin Cup. In fact, I would later learn that one very accomplished player recorded a 9 on the hole after three straight 8 irons went in the water. You can imagine my relief then when Greg’s initial instincts caused him to pull a 6-iron out of the bag when it was his turn to play. As he stood over the ball, however, it was clear he was beginning to have “second thoughts.” He removed his tee from the ground and headed back to the bag for what I assumed would be his 5-iron.
In anticipation of his wanting to play it doubly safe, I removed the 5-iron and handed it to him as he approached the bag. As he turned and headed back to the teeing area, he looked at the club I had handed him, stopped, returned to the bag with a look of disbelief. “I wanted my 8-iron,” he responded, placing the 5-iron back in the bag. Ordinarily, when caddying, I made it a point not to question Greg’s club decisions and shot selections, in large part because his instincts, honed by thousands of shots over the years, were almost always correct – that and I didn’t want to get “blamed” for a club-selection gone bad. This time, however, I had to speak up. The tournament was potentially hanging in the balance. “Greg,” I said, quite matter-of-factly, “you’re hitting an 8-iron off this tee over my dead body!” Suffice it to say, Greg was a bit shocked and more than a little bit surprised by my unusually strong/definitive stance. He respected my position, pulled his 6-iron back out of the bag, returned to the tee and hit a beautiful shot, 15 feet from the hole, which he proceeded to drain for a birdie. He didn’t go on to win the tournament, but any time you can pick up 7 shots on a fellow competitor in golf, let alone do it on one hole (1), you’re way ahead of the game!
Looking back, however, there was a far more important life lesson that played out on the 9th tee box that morning, one that I suspect plays out in all of our lives, in many different ways, every day. My experience in my own life (and in the lives of my children and others) is that, far more often than not, our first instinct is the correct one, in part, because it is precisely that: instinctual. It is a response borne of years of trial and error, success and failure, life-experiences, learning, practice, etc. – applied much in the same way an NBA basketball player catches a pass, turns and reacts to the target (the basket). In that instant, there is no time and, therefore, no opportunity for “second” thoughts. Too often, however, that time exists (or we create it) when it comes to our daily decision-making and we second guess ourselves and what our instincts are telling us. And it is there, in the “space” between our first instincts and our “second” thoughts, that self-doubt, uncertainty and fear (to name a few officious inter-meddlers!) reside. It is that “second-guessing” that too often leads us to downplay or ignore a sea of “red flags” that our instincts tell us to honor, and, in doing so, choose an obstacle-riddled path over one that leads in a more positive, life-affirming direction.
I wish I could take credit for the birdie on the 9th Hole of the Blue that summer. But the truth is all I really did was “reaffirm” (albeit in an uncharacteristically direct and somewhat dramatic way) what Greg’s initial instincts knew to be true: the surest way to avoid the hazard that lay in front of him was to trust, rather than second-guess, his decision to pull out a little extra club and let his talent take care of the rest!