This weekend I joined a dozen school buddies for an annual golf outing. Now, I took up golf late in life, which explains why I’m pretty much the worst player in the group. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Nobody minds much, except for me; everybody respects everyone else’s level of play. After all, that’s why handicaps exist. That said, once per outing, I will ask one good player for some advice. This time, I got some great advice from Dave.
“Charlie, your drives are too erratic. When they’re good, they’re as long as anyone’s, but much more often they end up in the woods on either side. Put away your driver club and just hit a 7-iron off the tee. You’ll give up 100 yards in distance, but you’ll always be in the fairway.”
An Insult? Or a Challenge?
As golfers know, on the face of it, that’s a bit of an insult. A 7-iron is made for much shorter shots than the driver. Telling me to use a 7-iron from the tee is like telling a cyclist to use training wheels, or a poet to go work on rhyming. But I know Dave, and he knows me, and I knew he was just trying to challenge my thinking in a creative way. And thinking is at the heart of the matter.
All sports are about one’s mental state to some degree; but no other sport can touch golf in the attitude-to-performance linkage. How can you miss a two-foot putt? Easy – start worrying about missing it.
For most golfers (me included), the tee shot leads the list of stress-inducing moments. There are a thousand ways to think wrongly about your tee shot – and every one of them can make for a self-fulfilling prophecy. The trick is to leave your thinking behind when you finally approach the tee, and let the habit of your muscle memory take over. Over-thinking is the root of all evil in golf.
Over-thinking: a Metaphor for Life
There was no way I was actually going to hit a 7-iron from the tee – these are my buddies, and I’m not all that ego-free! But I realized Dave had given me a gift. All I had to do was envision the result of a 7-iron from the tee – and duplicate it with the driver.
Mechanically, that meant slowing down, dialing back the swing, not trying to kill the ball. Mentally, that meant feeling relaxed, staying within my comfort zone, not pushing the limits – and especially not fearing all the bad things that could happen .
The result was powerful. I gave up some distance (less than 100 yards, though) but stayed within the fairway much more often. Result, better scores.
The Tee Box of Life
How often do you invite failure – because you’re pushing the limits on a dozen variables, living in fear of missing on one of them? Does it happen in sales calls? Client progress meetings? Presentations? Performance reviews?
Maybe you should try hitting a 7-iron from the tee box. Dial back the rough edges; stay within yourself; be very clear about the core message, the core values, the core parts of the relationship. Find your swing, and learn to trust it. Be clear and simple about what you’re doing. You may not make the occasional spectacular shot; but you’ll miss a whole lot of disastrous shots, and improve your score.