The pressure we grip the golf club hovers between tight and lose – strong enough to feel like we're in control but loose enough to let it all go at the right time in the swing. It’s a balancing act that extends throughout the whole game – the first draft of a plan that anticipates the unexpected.
But even when we feel we have all the pieces and are armed with enough skills to dictate an outcome, how in control are we, really?
This past weekend, I watched as Mito Pereira felt his PGA Championship title and first professional victory slip through his fingers. Perhaps it was too much strength that stood between his hands and the Wanamaker trophy. Standing on the final tee with a one-shot lead, a held-off finish was a sure sign that no matter how hard he held on, he had lost control - not control of his body, club, or physical being, but of his mind. He would later admit that the nerves that accumulated over the four rounds were hard to stomach towards the end. From the comfort of my couch, with my eyes glued to the TV, I sighed in sympathy for Pereira. I’ve felt that pain before.
Those times when tee balls are flying long and straight, approach shots are landing soft and nestling close to the hole and putts are quickly kissing the bottom of the cup, that’s when we feel in the driver's seat. The future seems easy to predict. No magic eight-ball is needed when you can tell the little white one where to go. But too often, before you can walk away and tip your hat on a great round, things can take a turn. An errant drive or poorly hit approach shot throws your mind into a tizzy. Soon you’re wondering what it felt like to once have such great control - a gift that can easily be taken for granted.
When I was beginning junior golf, I remember people telling me, “What a great game. You will learn so much about life.” Now, I’m realizing those lessons that transcend the game, most recently, that one about control.
At the start of this season, I was super excited. All parts of my game were heading in the right direction and I had a good head on my shoulders to steer them there. Out of nowhere a shoulder injury brought my personal tour van to a screeching halt. I’d have to hop ship and change lanes onto the road to recovery, a road that is filled with stop signs, detours, speed bumps, and uphill climbs. The worst part, you’re not in the driver's seat; the injury is.
It’s left me pondering a lot about the unexpected detours in life, those times when the maps of our lives take us on another route, perhaps the more scenic one. Despite the path we choose, our ETA can still vary. One minute we think we’ll be speeding right to our destination and the next we’re wondering if we’ll need new brake pads.
All these thoughts flowed through my mind as a drove down 85 last Friday to Chapel Hill, N.C. for a friend's wedding. Gripping the steering well tight enough to have control but loose enough to be relaxed, I followed my route to my alma mater, cruising along in the right lane when I caught a dump truck that was spitting rocks out of the bed. To avoid a cracked windshield, I shifted to the left lane. As I merged, I saw a northbound 18-wheeler. Its front wheels wobbled. The cab swerved at an odd angle. Just like that, 80,000 pounds of steel broke through the guardrail and tumbled straight toward my car.
The debris had already slapped my windshield when I quickly reacted veering back into the right lane. The trailer missed my car by a foot - a millisecond that could have changed or perhaps ended my life. I looked in my rearview mirror shaking as I saw the truck continue to tumble across the southbound lanes. A final collision with a tree brought it to a halt. Before I could pick up my phone, ambulance and fire truck sirens surrounded the area.
Shocked, stunned, and startled, I thought about the driver. I first prayed for his safety. Then, I thought about how, no matter how tightly he held his steering wheel or turned it in any direction, he still lost all control.
It quickly reminded me of that first lesson I learned through golf, one that I am challenged to apply to my life right now. We can prepare, study, plan, practice, and pray for the outcomes we want. However, when the time comes, we must hold tight to faith and let go of control.
Sometimes, we’ll find ourselves behind a tree with our only option being to punch out sideways. Other times we will be kicking down pins for easy birdie putts. At the end of the day, the ball will land where it is supposed to in due time. Whether we hold tight or let go, we’ll arrive just where we are meant to be.
This has been on my mind a lot lately. In large part because of all the unexpected twists and turns that I’ve experienced recently with my shoulder injury. At the start of the year, I mapped out my whole season, a map that is now covered with eraser marks and potential new routes. I’ve spent many of these days wondering how much control we really have, whether our calendars are only figments of our imagination.
I thought about that trucker and his family. A crash wasn’t on his life-calendar, but one second changed his life.
One swing on the 18th tee at the Southern Hills changed the course of Mito Pereira’s career, at least in the short term. I’ve been in his shoes. I know firsthand how one errant shot here or there can result in a completely different outcome.
Now, with many years of competitive golf behind me, I know that life lessons are the game’s greatest gift. In both, I work to keep my grip balanced, firm enough to hold on, but loose enough to adjust, adapt, and swing freely no matter what circumstances come my way.