One of the things that golf has taught me about life is that you can turn a bad day into a solid day by being disciplined.
In competitive golf, discipline and composure are the equalizers. When you are playing against someone who is either better than you or the same level as you, you are basically trying to keep up and hope that your competitor cracks under the pressure of your hanging around.
I’ve played against and beaten much better golfers than myself. I’ve even beaten better golfers than myself when I wasn’t playing particularly well.
If you’ve watched a major championship on television… you’ve seen this.
This is usually why a young gun golfer will do well for the first three days but quickly fall off on Sunday morning. The more experienced and disciplined players just kind of hang around and one by one… the less disciplined players explode under the pressure around them. The commentators say, “The field is backing up.” That’s a nice way to say it.
What do I do when things start to fall apart?
I hit the 7 iron.
For me, the 7 iron is the safest club in my bag. I know I can hit it straight every time and between 160-170 yards. So when I’m not playing well… I start to hit the 7 iron a lot. Am I pulling everything to the left or slicing everything into the trees? I just grab my 7 iron and go to work.
One of the tricks I liked to teach my high school golfers was to take the length of the hole and just divide it in half. If a hole is 360 yards… you don’t have to hit the driver. You can very comfortably hit your favorite club twice and still be on the green with a putt for birdie. (To a 15 year old who just learned how to hit 300 yard drives… it’s talking to a wall.) A par 5, 510 yards? That’s just three 7 irons to the green.
Sure, that’s not a sexy way to play golf. But it is an efficient one.
One time I was playing in a match with a player much better than me. And on that day I wasn’t playing particularly well. After 9 holes I was down big. He had shot a 39 and I was at 46. And I had chipped in a birdie on the 9th hole to get to that.
Making up 7 strokes over the last 9 holes seemed impossible. That’s too much. The match was essentially over.
As my competitor drank a Gatorade and talked on the phone I switched strategies as I put the ball on the tee of the 10th hole. I looked at my driver, twisted it around in my hands a few times, then headed back to the bag. The driver had failed me for the last time that day. I love hitting the ball far. There are fewer things in life more exhilarating than hitting a golf ball 300+ yards. But the driver had dug me into a deep hole and I had to put it away.
I pulled out the 7 iron. Taking a quick practice swing I just put the ball in play about 170 yards out. The guy I was playing with kind of laughed, hung up the phone, and pulled out his driver. Sure enough, he bombed the ball 150 yards over mine. We both parred the hole and moved to the 11th. Hole by hole, I just kind of worked my way through the course. A par here and a birdie there.
My competitor, full of confidence, gave up a couple strokes here and there, but never thought about it.
Standing on the 18th tee, a long par 5, the guy I was playing against finally did the math. He had played pretty poorly on the back 9 and I had hit this stupid 7 iron all over the golf course and played pretty well. He was 4 over on the back and I was 2 under.
That left me just one shot back with one hole to play. And he was suddenly quite interested in the match once again!
I hit my 7 iron to the top of the hill. He bombed his driver way, WAY to the bottom of the hill. He gave me a look as if to say, “Take that 7 iron boy.”
When we got to the top of the hill we both started to look down the fairway… his ball wasn’t in the fairway. It was either in the tiny strip of rough or it had gone too far, into the pond. I hit my second shot short of the pond, just and easy 160 yards to the green left. I looked at him and said, “You might want to go back and hit a provisional, just in case you are in the water.”
He was furious! He dropped his bag and grabbed a ball for the walk back to the tee.
We both knew his ball had gone in the water.
Sure enough, his provisional ball sailed into the trees and bounced around before settling in the rough with a tree between his ball and the green. He had completely lost his composure.
With the lost ball and hitting from the rough, I was clearly at the advantage with my ball sitting pretty in the fairway. Faced with an impossible shot around a tree and up the hill to the green… he went for the green. He nearly pulled it off but came up short and landed in the bunker. He was going to have to hole out from the sand for a par, but it was an ugly situation. Meanwhile, I hit my 3rd shot safely into the middle of the green and needed only an easy 2-putt to secure a par.
He went first. With the slope going away from him the ball came out of the bunker hot and slid all the way to the fringe… about 75 feet from the hole.
He’d have that left for a chance to tie the match my imminent par. The pressure was getting to him. I think he was embarrassed by the whole situation. He had already bragged to people that he had easily beaten me. And now it looked like he was going to need a miracle just to tie. He couldn’t figure out how I had climbed back into the match and now… on the last hole… had a putt for birdie while he had to pray for a miracle just for a bogey to tie!
He quickly lined up and sent his hail mary towards the cup. He came up about 5 feet short. Cuss words emitted from every pour of his body.
With a victory secured, I lined up a 20 foot putt straight up the hill. I gave it a whack and… sure enough… it dropped in for a birdie. Hey, why not?
My 7 iron strategy had salvaged a victory.
The score card looked like this:Player 1: 39 + 42 = 81 Adam: 46 + 33 = 79
I guess the life lesson in this is pretty simple, isn’t it? You don’t have to be the best at what you do to succeed. But you do need to know what you are good at and have the discipline to execute that one thing over and over again.