Sound like a paradox? It is. Because golf, in itself, is one massive paradox. So is life really.
Ultimately golf is a game in which you can’t control the outcome, so we fall into that irresistible trap of trying to control everything we can to lessen the severity of the uncontrollable. And to me at least, I still believe that’s the right thing to do. I still believe that’s one of the reasons I’ll never want to cut the strings that connect golf to my heart and my mind, because there is always an area you can control better than you already do. There is always something you can do better than you currently do. And figuring out what those things are is what makes golf so compelling for those who want to get to the top, and possibly so difficult to understand for the outsiders – the ones who brush golf off as boring; who don’t want to watch the best players in the world and have to wait four or five or six hours for something to happen.
It’s rarely about what spectators or fans or onlookers get to see. Whatever the critics might think, golf can be exciting to watch for anyone. It’s exciting to watch Mickelson hit an outrageous flop shot from a lie you can barely see land like a feather onto a downslope and roll gently towards the hole. It’s exciting to watch Jason Day hole a 50 foot putt across innumerable slopes to make eagle on a 600 yard par 5. It’s exciting to watch someone try desperately to keep control of their nerves and shaking hands as they stand over a 3 footer for a Major win that they’ve holed ten thousand times in practice. But none of these things, for me at least, are what keeps me practicing. They aren’t the beating heart of the game or those who give their all to mastering it. Golf isn’t possible to master. But knowing that doesn’t change our commitment to trying to – and nor should it.
I’ve gone a little off track here to try and get to the essence of what I want to say. All of these areas that golf offers you to improve; all the fine margins of high performance, they lead you (or should lead you) to create plans for improvement. To identifying what those areas are and where your biggest gains might come from, and putting in motion steps to make them better. And then, as logic follows, you become a better player. You follow the natural and seemingly obvious progressions until you get to the top; get to where you want to go.
Simple yes? Straightforward yes? Justttt kiddinggggg….
Straightforward and simple are two words that just do not go with golf. In any sense. If there was a clear path to the top, a clear path to being the best – or the best you can be – everyone would do it. But they don’t and there isn’t. It goes for any sport and any walk of life – pretty much everyone wants to be successful, and pretty much everyone would be able to do that if it was a case of putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. But what people don’t realise, and what people don’t like, is when you have to go in a different direction. When you have to move sideways or backwards or simply stand still for a while to figure out why the path is blocked and what you’re going to do about it. That part is far from easy. But it’s the part where you find out who really wants it. It’s the part that separates people.
If you don’t make the plans to get to the top, you definitely won’t get there. You have to be meticulous and detailed and intelligent and dedicated and a million other things that people don’t know to even have a chance. But it guarantees absolutely nothing.
You have to plan as if your life depends on it. And then when reality smashes you in the face just when you thought you had it figured out, you have to make your life not depend on it. Find a new way. Find your own way. Let the challenges pave the way for you… and learn to trust that way as if it was what you had planned all along.