lessons from the golf course – self management

When ambition overcomes skill....there is trouble!

I enjoy greatly the opportunity to wander the golf course, but the truth is I am a very average golfer.

I tend to hit from the rough more than the fairway, and have become quite familiar with the insides of bunkers on most courses I play. I’ve also donated quite a few golf balls to the ongoing experiment taking place at the bottom of water hazards everywhere to see if they are biodegradable.

So I enjoy it, but I’m not that good.

My brother on the other hand, is very good. He teaches people to play, and knocks around in PGA tournaments around Australia.

So the opportunity to play with Matt at Barnbougle Dunes recently was a great day for many reasons.  Firstly, a day out with my brother who lives at the other end of the country.  Nice.

Secondly, the chance to play the stunning course and measure myself against its various challenges.  Excellent.

And thirdly, or so I though, some free tips on how to correct my slice and solve my putting blues. Priceless.

As we wandered the fairways and searched innumerable sand dunes looking for errant tee shots, Matt instead gave me something much more valuable – a lesson in managing my way around the golf course.

The lesson began with expectations.

For me, a self-confessed hack, to stand on the tee of any given hole planning (or hoping) to make a birdie is mostly a case of false expectations.  In taking the risk of trying to hit over the water to give myself a short approach, I’m only consigning myself to a world of hurt – because more often than not I won’t clear the water, I’ll find it.  In aiming directly at the flag tucked tightly in behind a bunker, instead of shooting for the wide open spaces on the other side of the green, I’ll more often than not find the sand…..and I’m not that good at bunker shots despite plenty of practice.

The truth is, if I have a bogey on every hole (one over par) I’ll end up shooting 90 – well below my average.  If I then identified just a handful of holes on the course where I could hope to make par, I’m into the mid 80’s.  If I start with realistic expectations, and take the safe option of laying up short of a water hazard instead of trying to clear it, or acknowledging that unlike Matt, I don’t have the skills to thread the needle, I’ll be far less prone to disappointment.  And I’ll be a better golfer.  And as I become a better golf, so I can lift my hopes higher.

That’s the power of playing with realistic expectations.

The lesson continued, with the power of information.

Like most poor golfers, I take what I see in front of me at face value. I’ll look to the green and think “that looks about a 5-iron to me” or stare down the fairway thinking “that bunker looks about 225 from here, I can hit 3 wood safely“.  If I get very motivated I might estimate the distance between me and the nearest yardage marker (for the uninitiated, most golf courses have markers along the fairway showing 150m to the centre of the green) and do a little simple maths.  “150m, plus about, I reckon, 25 metres, makes me roughly 175.”  Better than an eyeball measuring stick, but not by much.

Matt on the other hand knows the value of information. He’ll carry a course map – showing the distances from (or to) lots of identifiable features, like bunkers, water hazards, notable trees and so on.  Even more amazing, he carries a small laser measuring device. Look through the eyepiece, line up the crosshairs, and the device tells you precisely how far away your object of focus is.

Information is power.  Armed with precise knowledge of distances, Matt can pick exactly the right golf club, while I’m forever going long, or coming up short – at least in part because I haven’t chosen the right club.  Sure there’s a related issue about consistency, whether I hit the same club the same distance each time, but without the knowledge, I can’t even begin to bring that consistency factor under control.

The lesson on this day finished with enjoyment.

Even a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at work…..or so the saying goes.  Even in bad weather, or when things are not going so well, find ways to enjoy the game.  Take pleasure in the beauty of the surrounds, the crafting of the course, the simple pleasures.  Enjoy the challenge of making the right shot – and the delight that floods through when a shot goes just as it was imagined.

Too often I let my enjoyment of golf be coloured by the experience of frustration at not being better, missing this put, or hitting that drive into the rough.  Those things are there, and they are real, but they shouldn’t stop me from enjoying the game.

The thing is, as we walked and talked and played, and as I practiced realistic expectations, sought and used information wisely, and strove to enjoy myself, I realised that these three principles apply in many areas of my life.

As I begin each day, how can I be realistic about what it might hold?  Ambitious for sure, hopeful yes, but realistic as well.

As a project unfolds, how can I ensure I have all the information I need? Who can I ask? What can I read? How can I arm myself with information? And how can I make the most of what I gather?

And how, even on days when it all seems too hard, too horrible, can I find moments of joy?  How can I manufacture a moment’s peace in the midst of a full and frustrating day?

As we played I tried to put these lessons to good use.  I played within myself, opting for shots that I was confident I could make, taking safe choices while Matt blasted past me with power and precision. I took more notice of the course and its features, calculating, measuring and using the information.  And I enjoyed many moments that day.

And it all worked. I was on target for a score way below my usual average….until I found trouble off the 17th tee, and backed it up with a woeful display of putting on the 18th.

I hate golf.

Lessons from the golf course is a continuing series of reflections


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