My son played some of his most memorable golf shots from the woods. Come to think of it, so, recently, did Bubba Watson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOROLxwKI_0) and Phil Mickelson before him (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh1ZVLuZdvE). I remember one shot in particular. It came at the 53rd hole of the Meadowlands event that I wrote about a few weeks back (http://tinyurl.com/bzpmt7j). Greg stood on the tee box believing he had a two shot lead over his closest competitor, who already had teed off and was safely in the fairway. With the pressure of his first multi-day professional tournament victory beginning to set in, Greg “blocked” his tee shot into a stand of trees that guarded the right hand side of the fairway. By the time we arrived at his ball, which, to add insult to injury, was nestled in the rough, Greg’s pursuer had knocked his approach shot to within 4 feet of the hole, setting up an almost certain birdie. Greg had only two options. The safest play was to simply pitch the ball back into the fairway. If he took that approach, chances are the best he could do was a bogey 5, meaning that if his fellow competitor holed his birdie putt the two would be tied going to the final hole. The other option was to try and thread a shot through the trees in the direction of the green.
Greg, knowing full well that I always tended to be ultra-conservative in such situations, asked what I thought he should do. I was, after all, technically his “caddy” for the event (LMAO!). I suspect my response surprised him: “What would you do if I wasn’t standing here?” I asked quite matter-of-factly. He didn’t hesitate, “I’d try and punch a 4-iron through those two trees,” he said, pointing to what appeared to be a narrow 5-foot opening between two tall pine trees 15 yards in front of where we were standing. “Then hit the 4-iron,” I said, looking around to see what alien had suggested such lunacy before I could intervene. Greg proceeded to pull the 4-iron and, while I held my breath and suffered a small nervous breakdown, confidently struck the shot. Sure enough, as if it had eyes, the ball squeezed through the opening and skidded 140 yards towards the green, coming to rest just inches short of the putting surface. Moments later, Greg finished off his remarkable escape with a chip shot to a couple of inches that he tapped in for a “routine” par. His opponent, who, as it turned out, was actually 3 shots behind the whole time, proceeded to miss his short birdie putt and the rest, as they say, is history.
Having spent a little time with sports psychologists over the years, I have a pretty good idea as to what made such “recovery” moments possible – at least for Greg. First, when Greg found himself in a golf predicament, his expectations, which, from a perfect lie in the middle of the fairway, always bordered on perfection, immediately and significantly diminished. He knew from experience that, in the woods, bad things can and do happen – more often than not. Somehow knowing that relieved some of the pressure, which, in turn, afforded Greg’s creativity and considerable golf problem-solving skills the breathing room they needed to find a way out of the trouble. As importantly, Greg realized that the more difficult the predicament, the greater the opportunity to pull off a miracle shot (i.e., to fashion an “epic” save). See Bubba Watson link above! Finally, the longer he played the game, the more positive “escape” shot experiences Greg had to drawn on when he found himself in the woods. Over time, those experiences bred the confidence Greg needed to find a way out of a lot of different jams over the years and find a way out he ultimately did – not every time mind you, but often enough to bring lots of smiles to his face.
That being the case, I was never sure why the shots that “led to” those miracle moments were so often accompanied by so much angst (e.g., club slamming, club tossing, self-critical and not always fit to print language, etc.). After all, the fact is: Without the occasional miss-hit there never would have been an opportunity to realize the full potential of his skill set – the abilities and creativity that set him apart from his fellow competitors. Stated otherwise, lots of people, particularly highly-skilled professionals, can play from a perfect lie in the fairway, considerably fewer can do the same from the golf equivalent of jail. And so it is with us and the inevitable “miss-hits” in our lives. We devote so much negative energy dwelling on what gave rise to our dilemmas that we often lose sight of the considerable “opportunities” they give rise to – opportunities for creativity, to display the problem-solving skills we’ve acquired over time, to be part of an “epic” or at least highly memorable Houdini-act of our own or, perhaps, to acquire a new skill that will prove quite useful to us somewhere down the road. At a minimum, they serve the critically important function of “reminding” us that we’re human, which, in turn, teaches us humility and, ultimately, the need for empathy and compassion when confronted by the “miss-hits” of others.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting for a minute that we “aim” for the woods just for the sake of testing our mettle. To the contrary, I would recommend playing “out of the short grass” in the middle of life’s fairways as often as possible! It’s much easier and less stressful there. However, if on occasion, you find yourself “deep in the woods” or “in the weeds” (to borrow a phrase from the service industry), take a deep breath and embrace the opportunities for greatness that the moment affords. Thanks, Greg, for teaching me that lesson – time and time again! I tend to be a bit of a slow learner sometimes.