“Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.”
– Benjamin Disraeli
As I am sure you have noticed by now, I like to start off my writings with some sort of quote, a philosophy for the article, if you will. Recent events have caused me to look back at some of my own experiences and those of others and reflect on the quote above. The game of golf is about perseverance. Sometimes our greatest successes come from our having to cope with really rough circumstances. In this article I am going to talk about exactly that, share a personal experience, as well as some stories of notable professionals to support my point.
This past weekend was the 2015 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. And this is the story of one of the most spectacular comebacks in golfing history. Rickie Fowler started the day at seven under par, three back of the 54 hole leader. There is a lot made of “starting fast” in professional golf, to record a good score and put pressure on those playing behind you. And while that is a good idea if one can achieve it, one must take care not to lose the awareness that there are 18 holes out there and that they must be played one by one. Fowler played his first 12 holes in one over par, dropping him to six under and four back of the lead at the time. He was out of the tournament. His family even headed to the airport to catch a flight home. But he didn’t give up. He birdied 13, 15, eagle on 16, then birdie on 17 and 18 to put him five under for the day and 12 under for the event. He ended up getting into a three man playoff in which he birdied two of the four holes needed to finally take home the trophy. Let’s think about that. Here he is, recently voted by his fellow competitors as being one of the most overrated player on the PGA Tour (And to be fair, it was a justified evaluation considering that in his profession the quality of a player is judged by wins; he had won only once in 141 previous attempts, or just over ½ of ONE percent of the time.) He was having a rough Sunday; heck, his family even took off. But he hung in there, kept giving himself opportunities, and capitalized on them when they came. That is what being a great player is all about: not giving up on yourself on the rough days. His superb work at the Players probably cost him his label of being overrated.
Of course controlling one’s attitude and emotion takes every bit as much practice as the physical part of the game and is much easier said than done. While I know this to be true, I acknowledge that sometimes I struggle to maintain my positive attitude in the middle of a rotten round. Sometimes I lose my focus and the will to play excellent golf when having a tough day. It is something I constantly work on, and think that you should as well.Whenever I think or talk about this subject, my mind is always drawn back to an interesting round I had in college. At the time I was around a +4 handicap; I got to play two or three times a week and practice at least once or twice a week. While I struggled with consistency, I would have the odd excellent round of 7-9 under par. Sometimes when I was having a bad day, I would catch myself giving up a little because I knew I couldn’t record much of a score, so what was there to play for?
On the day in question, I was playing with one of my best friends. When we met a couple of years earlier, my friend was a 12, and I was around +2 or so. We liked playing together so kept at it over for a couple of years. During that time my friend had improved to about a 3 or 4 while I had jumped to around +4. His big motivating goal was beating me straight up just ONCE. It seemed like every time I shot high 70’s or low 80’s, he would shoot just a couple higher, and every time he would have a good round around par, I would be under. But today seemed to be his day. The course has a very soft start to it, with the first six holes being two easily reachable par 5’s, three short par 4’s (one drivable), and a moderately challenging par 3. There is no water and no out of bounds. If you expect to play a good round on this course, you would hope to be at least two under par through six. Well, I had 3 three putts, four chunked wedges and two hooked tee shots and was +5 through 6. My friend was +1 and playing very solidly. He was trying to stay calm, but I knew how much he wanted to beat me. I was so frustrated with my play that had he not been there, I would have probably gone in at the turn. Thank goodness he was though, because it caused something in me to say, “You know what, not today, bud. I’m going to stay right here and keep fighting and try my best to turn this thing around.” Twelve holes, 7 birdies and 5 pars later, I had my best turnaround ever. I won by 4 as my friend continued to play solidly and shot two over for his day.
After the round we got back in the car (We lived across the street from one another so often drove to the course together.) and started the drive home. He was unusually quiet, and I assumed it was because he was upset that I had come back to win. I said something to the effect of, “Hey man no worries, you played great, and I’m sure you’re going to take me down soon,” to which he responded, “I’m not really upset about losing… I played well. It’s just… well I could never do that.” I looked at him, a little confused, and asked, “Could never do what?” He went into a long dialogue about how much farther I hit it than he did (In college I did long drive competitions.), and that I could overpower a golf course if I got it going. He reflected that there was just no way he could ever birdie 7 out of 12 holes. To this I responded simply, “How many years have you played this course?” He said, “Three.” “And in three years, have you birdied every hole on the course?” I asked. He said of course he had, but that wasn’t the point. How could he possibly birdie them all in one round? To that I had one simple, final question. “Why couldn’t you?” He sat there and thought about it for a while, and after not being able to come up with a good answer replied, “Huh… I guess I could.”
Shortly thereafter he did manage to beat me, I believe I shot 76, and he shot 74. In the years that have followed, (I have played a bit less…teaching takes time! …and he has played a bit more.) he has beaten me many times, often when both of us shot under par. He has achieved a +3 handicap as his lowest, won a championship at his club, and is almost always in the top five of the events he plays. While he still struggles with the mental game, as we all do, he has become much better at fighting through the bad rounds and persevering, and this has helped him achieve long-term success.
Winston Churchill wrote: “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Everyone out there, never give up. Never surrender. Always keep your head up, smile, and keep fighting. There is always something you can practice every day, even if it’s just keeping your cool when your round isn’t going the way you want. If you can achieve this terribly difficult task, I assure you that not only will you see improvement in your scores, but you will enjoy your game and your life a lot more!