As I write this, in November 2021, I’m a professional golfer ranked 404 in the world. (Despite the point of this blog, I actually got a bit of a shock when I looked up that number).
In April 2018 and again in April 2019, I was ranked 200 spots better than I am now.
But ask me which version of me is the best golfer? It’s November 2021 me, and it isn’t even close.
Professional sport has a very weird dynamic of necessary skills. If you want to be successful, you have to simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs: that of believing in yourself and your ability to succeed on any given day, and that of knowing what you need to do to improve. Have the former but not the latter, and you will probably blame everyone but yourself for not seeing the results you want. Have the latter but not the former, and you will probably wonder despairingly why you never get the results you feel like your game merits. Have both, and you’ll get somewhere.
But finding the right balance will undoubtedly cause you to question yourself (and maybe your sanity).
Because it is impossible to be ranked 404th in the world, and still believe you are good enough to be the best player in the world.
But I do.
If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any chance of actually achieving it.
I believe that far more concretely than I did in April 2018, or April 2019.
I believe that, despite knowing that my final month of a year where I’ve learnt more about my formula for success than ever before will be comprised of trips to Q School in the US and in Europe. Golf will throw those ironies in your face with a posturing that threatens to strangle you. The taunts of a reality that you are not where you want to be, that directly contradict your beliefs that you are good enough to be.
The same three footer to the same pin that cost you the tournament a year before, the successful result this time around only good enough to maintain your comfy position of 34th.
The same holing out drill that draws in nearby players with its ‘just one more go’ addictiveness; just as it did three years ago, on a different putting green with different players, with a less skilled version of yourself propelled by the confidence of less scarring.
The same lonely walk across the same airport to the same unstaffed rental car centre, the same opportunities ahead this time echoing with the footsteps of coming full circle.
People often ask what the hardest part of turning pro is for good amateur golfers. There are the obvious things – struggling financially, finding a place to play, dealing with loneliness. But I think one of the biggest challenges is holding knowing which bits of evidence to trust, and which to discard. In 2017, my first year as a professional, I kept a page in the back of a notebook charting my world ranking progress almost week-to-week. It improved with almost every tournament I played; a sign back then that helped me trust the path I was on was the right one. Though not competing at the same level, or the same places, as some of my peers in amateur golf, I was improving. I was moving in the direction I needed. If I’d done that this year, I probably would have packed in the Symetra Tour after about 3 weeks. (The shafting of that tour in the world rankings is… something). I had to find other evidence.
It is easier when the evidence is tangible, but often it isn’t. The question I would ask to aspiring professionals is that – can you filter? In a sport of infinite variables, and flawed systems, and undefined formulas for success, can you learn what to look for? What to use to guide you? When to adapt that view?
The process of getting to where you want to be is probably more rewarding than getting ‘there’ itself. Having a few weeks at home, away from the uncompromising black-and-whites of tournament results, has helped me remember that. But knowing which shades of grey to dive into… that’s a skill that can change every day.