Have you ever gotten to the top of a long hike and looked out at the view? If so, your eyes are probably perplexed at the beauty and wonder of seeing the world from a new height. You look long in the distance at vast land. The things that seem so grand from below only look like little dots. After your eyes are done gazing, you snap back into reality to check the ground below your feet. That’s when you realize you are on the precipice. One step in the wrong direction and you’re falling. But one step in the right direction and you are closer to a more comfortable spot.
That’s the edge. That’s the place professional golfers live, where we lay our heads at night, the path we walk in daylight, and the spot we sit and contemplate in silence.
Golf is a sport where you and only you are in control of your destiny. No coach, no teammate, no forfeiting opponent: the scores you shoot reflect your skills. If they are good enough, you are rewarded. No personnel director is using a subjective opinion to decide whether or not you play over someone else. We are told every week whether or not we’ve stayed on the edge or fallen off. The edge is a line calculated by objective software on the computer. Based on our scores we stand above it and play the weekend, or dip below and pack our bags to head home early. This is all determined when the final putt drops after the second round - yet another way we live on the edge.
In golf, like life, nothing is guaranteed. This past Saturday night, I sat in my hotel room watching the Penn State Nittany Lions play the Auburn Tigers. Heading into the fourth quarter Penn State was beating Auburn 34-6. At the first commercial break, I changed the channel to find a better game. Unless a miracle happened, the one I was watching was over.
Some may say golf is boring, but in this way it never is. A player can have a five-shot lead with three holes to play and still lose the tournament. An errant drive tee shot into someone’s yard, a chunked iron into a water hazard, or a bewildering three-putt on the last hole (enter Danny Willet this past weekend), can turn the tides quickly. Therefore, this is a game in which we learn to live on the edge.
I’d be lying if I denied sometimes wishing golf had guardrails to secure us on higher ground, a cushion similar to the Nittany Lions 28-point lead with only a quarter left to play. But, thinking of the game that way would be failing to see the point.
Professional golf is about finding peace at the edge, not fearing the fall, or scampering for security. Living on the edge is the victory before the victory, finding peace on the precipice while our feet dangle off, knowing that whatever way we tip is where we are supposed to land.
This may all sound a bit confusing, but I share this because of the valuable lesson I learned this past weekend.
With three holes to play at the Guardian Championship, I was one stroke away from missing the cut. I was trying to climb up the slope. On the 16th hole, I drained a 13-foot birdie putt. I’d arrived on the edge with two holes to go. My hands were digging into the dirt just trying to hold on while my eyes looked at the long drop below. Before I knew it, I found myself climbing
again. I bogeyed the 17th hole and played aggressively on 18 hoping to make a birdie.
The birdie didn’t come. I fell off the edge.
I was angry at letting it slip away. It took time to cool off, but once I did, I realized why I fell and why I needed to fall. I was so focused on staying on the edge that I lost my view from the top. The land in the distance. It’s not about the small moment of holding on or falling off; it's about sitting comfortably at the edge, focusing on the view a long way away.
If we live our lives in fear of falling, we miss out on all the amazing views along the way.
Next time, I won’t look down at the drop below. I will keep my head up. And I will focus on the beauty above.