In the Summer of 2009, I met my 24 year old son at a local restaurant for dinner. A few hours earlier, he had played one of the worst rounds of golf of his young professional career at a local one day event in West Palm Beach. It was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right. Unfortunately, days like that are not all that uncommon in golf (or in life for that matter) even for highly accomplished players, but that certainly never lessened the discouragement that seemed to come along with them, particularly where the oldest of my two quite perfectionistic children was concerned. I knew that, but I understood, as an “interested spectator” who, over the years, had walked hundreds of miles of fairways watching Greg and his peers compete at every level of golf (junior, high school, amateur and professional), that such days were inevitable, often due, in large part, to the many variables that are always in play (e.g., weather, the condition of the course, idiosyncrasies in a player’s swing or putting stroke on any given day, etc.). I also understood, perhaps better than most, that “one of those days” was not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the player or the current state of his or her game. Going into our dinner that night, it was particularly important to find a way to communicate that to Greg and, in the process, “talk him down off the ledge,” because a few days later we were scheduled to head out to South Carolina for a 3-day Summer Series event on the Hooters Tour and the last thing Greg needed was to show up at that event “convinced” he had no business being there, let alone any hope of winning.
In the course of our discussion, I was reminded (and, in turn, reminded him) of a very curious aspect of human nature: All of us tend to place far more significance and devote a disproportionate amount of energy to times where we fall noticeably short of our expected level of performance, while giving ourselves far too little credit for (and only pausing briefly to enjoy) those occasions where we hit (or at least come close to hitting) our mark. Take my son, for example. By that point in his life, Greg had developed a skill level at golf that enabled him to shoot well below par on any golf course – on any given day. That being the case, on those occasions when he did that (i.e., shot a sub-par round, even one that was ridiculously low), he would relish the moment – but only for a moment. The same was true, albeit to a lesser extent, when he executed an unbelievable shot or managed to extricate himself from what seemed to be an impossible lie or situation in the middle of a round. After all, that was what Greg “expected” of himself. Consequently, the fact that less than a fraction of ½ of 1% of all golfers in the world could ever do those things simply never factored into the equation. However, throw in a round well above par, like the one he was dealing with that August night in 2009 and he could find a way to cling to that for days or weeks at a time. In the process, he could assign all kinds of negativity to it (e.g., that his hard work and practice weren’t paying off, that he wasn’t even as good a player as he had been years earlier, that if he was still going to shoot rounds like that he might as well give up the game, etc.). I’m not singling him out – all of us do it, in all kinds of circumstances.
Despite my efforts to share some of these sentiments with Greg that night, by the end of the evening he was still questioning the wisdom of our driving several hundred miles just so that he could experience what he was certain would be a “re-run” of that highly unpleasant day. However, all the arrangements already had been made and could not be cancelled and so, a few days later, we set out for South Carolina. What happened over the three tournament days that followed is hard to describe or explain, particularly coming, as they did, so closely on the heels of that “horrible” round just a few days earlier. On a golf course that he had never seen before (Meadowlands), Greg played flawlessly, missing only one shot that I can remember over 54 holes. Along the way, he made a total of 17 birdies and could very easily (and quite literally) have made 10 – 13 more! He finished 12 under par and won the event by 3 shots (http://www.ngatour.com/general/news/release_323.html). As his fellow competitors would attest – it wasn’t that close. I’m only glad I had the privilege of being a part of it as a spectator/caddy. It would turn out to be one of the crowning jewels of Greg’s professional career and it was a thing of beauty – the culmination of a lot of hard work, a glimpse into what is his considerable talent.
But, in retrospect, there were two other take-aways from that event that are noteworthy. Moments like that are only possible if we create opportunities for them to be made manifest. Had Greg allowed what, in reality, was the slightest of bumps in an admittedly very long, challenging and sometimes obstruction-laden road to knock him off track, if he had decided to forego the “next” event, based on what happen at the “last” one, he never would have experienced that moment, which, hopefully, will remain with him for a lifetime. Second, all of us do ourselves a tremendous disservice by allowing any one event (or series of events) to take on a level of importance/significance that is far greater than they warrant. In Greg’s case, no one round of golf (or shot within a round) was entitled to any more or less attention/energy than the one before it or the one that would follow it. However, to the extent that we are inclined to vest events with “power” in our lives, we would all be better served to dwell on (and pat ourselves on the back for) those times when we hit or come close to hitting our stride and quickly brush aside those days when we fall a little short, as “aberrations” (i.e., nothing more than the inevitable by-product of a life filled with lots of variables that we simply cannot and never were intended to control).