This post has been a few weeks in the making. #MillerLife is coming to the end of the preseason and it’s hard to believe that on August 1, we’ll see just how much the hours and hours of practice, lessons, and tournament play have paid off. As I’ve walked incredible golf course after incredible golf course, watching shots that take your breath away, followed by shots that break your heart, I started jotting down ideas about all the ways the old Bobby Jones quote comparing the game of golf to the game of life is scary accurate. It being the weekend of The 147th Open, and a celebration of a game dating back to the 15th century in the place where the game was born, it seemed an appropriate time to pull all my thoughts together.
The ideas for this post started when the boys played a tournament at the University Club of Kentucky and were a reflection of what happened on the hole pictured above. It is the par 3 #8 on the Big Blue Course: an elevated tee that challenges you to hit a 1.68″ ball 158 yards onto a 25′ green surrounded by water, as close as possible to a 4.25″ hole. A friend of the boys was in the group ahead of ours and, at 15 years old, achieved every golfer’s dream: a hole-in-one! Despite it being a tournament, when a golfer makes a shot like that, every person on the course, even the ones you are trying to beat, celebrates! It is one of the things that I love most about the game of golf – while you want to win, you almost can’t help complimenting, appreciating, and celebrating a competitor’s great shot.
But the game of golf is often as much a mental game as it is one of physical skill. The next couple of holes that followed for this kiddo broke our hearts; the adrenaline of making such an incredible shot made it almost impossible to control his emotions and he went 3 over and 5 over on the next two holes. In my professional life, we teach leaders that eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress) are both hard on your mind/body and diminish performance; those 3 holes were a perfect example of the concept, and further, brought to life just how much The King was right:
In no particular order, “evidence” of the ways the game of life and the game of golf really aren’t all that far apart…
- Blind shots: In golf and life there are times when you hit a shot and have no idea where it’s going to go or how it will turn out – sometimes, you’ve just got to have faith that the shot will land where it should and give you something you can work with.
- Bad breaks: Good shots aren’t always rewarded, much like the best of intentions and good deeds – do good anyway.
Manners and etiquette are non-negotiable: Respect, courtesy, sportsmanship – yes, even for your opponents – are an integral part of the game. The world could use a bit more of all of that (and then some).
- You can’t fake it: I guess you can “fake” life, but it’s freaking exhausting – you simply can’t fake golf; you can either play or you can’t. I believe that life is the same – you might be able to talk a great game but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be you because eventually people are going to figure it out. Plus, you were made on purpose for a purpose – be true to that.
- Integrity: Easy one here – what you do when no one is watching matters; golf absolutely cannot exist without integrity and life shouldn’t either.
- Even the pros have a bad day: Week after week, a player will win a tourney and the following week, not even make the cut. Everyone has an “off” day (or week or month or maybe even, year) – cut yourself some slack, but don’t you dare quit.
- Good shots always make you want to play again: A great day in life or on the golf course always has you coming back for more.
No one to depend on but you (and Jesus): Golf is one of only a few sports, that even when playing for a team, your game is all on you. People can coach and cheer for and encourage you, but your the only one that can hit the shot. You can’t go through life expecting someone to live yours for you or live your life for someone else – enabling, co-dependency, entitlement, and lots of other ick come from that chaos.
- Good days and bad days are all long days: Golf is played on 6,000+ yards of beautiful, but rarely flat and even terrain, that you traverse with 30-40 lbs. of clubs on your back; add sun/heat or cold/rain and it can be exhausting and make for a long day – even when you play well. We all go through life with baggage and, no matter how awesome the journey is, carrying our ick can be exhausting.
- Leave places better than you found them: One of the first rules of golf is that you leave a course better than you found it; fix your own ball marks and divots, pick up trash you see on the course, and rake out your bunkers – it’s consider a sign of respect for the field we play on. The twist is that sometimes other people don’t take care of their own marks, trash, bunkers, etc; regardless if its ours or someone else’s, we take care of it. We should leave people better than we find them, too. When we mess up, own it and fix it, and sometimes we might have to help repair marks that someone else left – it’s called loving people where they are and we could all do more of that.
- You only get the equipment you have: An interesting rule of golf is that you get no more than 14 clubs in your bag and once you begin a round, you can’t replace any of those clubs. Throw a club after a bad shot and it bends or breaks – you are out of luck for all 18 holes. Trying to hit from behind a tree and damage a club – out of the bag it comes, too. Life only gives you one “you” – be good to you, take care of you, and treat yourself like the irreplaceable gift you are.
Fear is a liar: When you are standing over a shot and let any sort of fear or doubt creep into your head, it can’t possibly turn out well. Life’s the same – you can’t let yourself be ruled by fear or you’ll regret every shot you didn’t take.
I am so grateful to all of the people that have helped our boys be a part of this incredible game. When my mom bought them each clubs at the age of 4, it wasn’t with any intention to force them into the golf; she simply wanted to share the game she loves with them. That they love it, and are pretty good at it, is great; that they want to play at as high a level as they can achieve, is an incredible and ambitious dream; that they are growing as young men and learning invaluable life lessons by playing a game that is hundreds of years old and rooted in values like honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment (AKA the core values of The First Tee) is more than a mama could ask for.