As the softly falling snow nestles over the frozen greens and fairways of Michigan, let me tell you about my dreaded snowman on the final hole of the MedHealth Wellness Centers FUTURES Golf Classic played at Washtenaw Country Club back in the last decade. Obviously time has passed but the memory still smarts. Badly.
It had been a rough day at ‘Black Rock’, which is what I label any place where bounces are as poor as my play on a particular day – and the gods of golf are unappeased. I knew my score was not going to light up the Leaderboard. As a player receiving a Sponsor’s Exemption, I was there courtesy of the tournament. Usually every tour stop on all the pro tours gives at least two or three of these coveted spots to pros who could not play otherwise. In this case, I was given the opportunity to tee it up because of my work on the Board of Directors for this event and also because I can usually get around a golf course without embarrassing myself. However, on this particular day, I should have gone shopping, a fate worse than death.
Ah, the gods of golf. For those not acquainted with these deities, please understand that while they can be nasty and unforgiving, they can also be wonderful and generous. Normally you’d prefer their favor but on occasion they lure you into a false sense of security.
On the first hole, I missed the green but nearly dunked my lob shot for a birdie. Tapping in for par I thought, ‘Good start!!!’ Now, you have to understand this course is an extremely long, difficult, and tricky one to play and not exactly suited to my game – which favors shorter and tighter courses. After my first taste of good fortune I felt a whole lot better than I did on the jittery first tee box. This was not meant to last. Holes 2 and 3 delivered scores of 6 and 7, and while I did calm down after that, the rest of the round was no better than a two-day-old bagel – without the flavored cream cheese and with the accompanying dry mouth. My best efforts were collapsing like the proverbial house of cards in the hands of a five-year-old amidst a strengthening wind.
Have you experienced a day when you could do nothing right? Like Greg Norman’s painful-to-watch final round in the 1996 Masters? A day when it takes every ounce of energy, discipline, and fortitude to complete the task at hand? A day you truly look forward to but has turned out all wrong? In golf, these days come every so often and you can only hope they rear their ugly heads when it doesn’t matter too much. Unfortunately we don’t get to choose the time nor the place. Imagine how it must be when the whole world, or what seems like it, is watching you flounder and blunder….
But, I’ve digressed. Back to my 8.
I can’t recall the last time I’ve swung at and missed hitting a ball, but on that 18th hole, it happened. I could give you a play-by-play, recalling hitting the tree twice, skulling my downhill shot, which skipped thrice on the water and landed in an impossible lie at a bunker’s lip and taking a mighty swing at it anyway and contacting nothing but grass and having to hit it sideways AWAY from the hole just to get an acceptable lie from which to hit my THIRD bunker attempt. Oh, I could tell you those details but so could every single member of the gallery surrounding the 18th green, witnessing every blow. But guess what? When I hit the third bunker shot about 12 feet from the pin and made the putt, (you knew that would happen, didn’t you?), the multitudes still clapped and cheered.
At that moment, if someone would have taken my temperature, the mercury would have burst. A lot of folks might have tossed the ball and maybe some clubs, or the bag, or their shoes, in the pond fronting the green. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind. But since I’m the one who is supposed to have all the answers and set good examples, how could I do anything other than to acknowledge the crowd, smile, and walk to the scorer’s tent? Anyone who was watching me make a total golfing fool out of myself would not have known how mad, upset, and embarrassed I was out there.
There is a lesson to be learned here, as always. Upon entering the scorer’s tent, my two playing companions, both of whom were professionals, turned to me and said that they had never seen such a display of self-discipline and control under such humbling conditions.
“We probably would have thrown our clubs into the drink!!” one of them quipped. The other insisted she would have quit playing competitive golf right then and there.
No matter how bad things are, whether in golf or life, remember there are people watching. Long after scores have been forgotten, they WILL remember you conducted yourself either with great honor or with disgrace. You always have a choice. In the words of the old knight who was hiding the one true sacred chalice among other false ones from Nazi plunderers in the third Indiana Jones movie ‘The Last Crusade’, “Choose wisely.”