The most important distance

A famous golfer once said the most important distance in golf is the six inches between your ears. I was reminded of this yesterday, as I watched defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth play so beautifully to take a five shot lead going into the final nine holes of The Masters only to get in his own way for three holes – numbers 10 – 12. This is to take nothing away from the winner Danny Willett who played brilliantly and was his own story deciding to play after his first child (a son) was born early and not on the due date which was the day Willett won the tournament.

Spieth made a few bad swings to start the back nine bogey and bogey and then walked to the 12th tee box, a tantalizing short par three hole over water with the water angled back to consume right fading shots. With the frustration from two consecutive bogeys lingering in his head, he proceeded to hit the one golf shot he shouldn’t, fading it too much into the water. That was the first mistake, but was compounded when he dropped closer to the hole rather than in a designated drop area, which was his choice.

From there, he did what many of us less talented golfers do and hit it short into the water again. The next shot wound up in a sand trap and eventually he putted out for a quadruple bogey seven. To his credit, he birdied two of the next three holes, and almost another, which would have made it more interesting had it fallen in the hole. But, when it missed, what little momentum he had regained had ebbed. Willett made five birdies and no bogeys (or worse) on this fine day of golf to win.

The space between our ears is where things are accomplished or not. We all make mistakes and get knocked down. How we react is what matters. In most cases, Spieth has and will again react well. A more famous and equally talented golfer has had this issue haunt him more than others – Greg Norman. On this same course, Norman let a six shot lead slip away and lose to Nick Faldo, one of the announcers in the booth yesterday.  He also has lost in several playoffs, with others making wonderful shots to beat him or his letting his inner voice get the better of him. To Norman’s credit, he has won two British Open titles and numerous other tournaments, but he could have won more major titles except for this albatross.

It should be noted Nick Faldo had this albatross early in his career, but overcame it. The British press can be cruel and called him Nick “Fold-o” as he collapsed under pressure in key tournaments. He later learned how to perform his swing better under pressure and won six major tournaments, evenly divided between three Masters and British Open titles. Like Norman did in other tournaments, Faldo found a way to win when the mistakes were magnified in big tournaments.

I once read an autobiography by the famous Dodger pitcher Orel Hershisher, who was renowned for pitching under pressure. When asked, he said he deals with perfection of the moment. He starts out wanting to throw a no-hitter, and when they get a hit, he tries to throw a one-hitter. He would shake off mistakes better than anyone and concentrate on the next batter. This sounds easier to do than it is. I can attest I found it hard to do this growing up as an athlete. I did find the more I had practiced, the calmer and more confident I felt. So, I was able to handle stress better in those occasions.

But, the real key is how do you respond when you mess up, be it golf, sports or life? Like life, golf is managing your mistakes. Even for the best of pros. Spieth will win more major championships, because he is talented and tenacious. He will also learn from his “thirty minutes of bad shots” as he called it. We must do the same in life. We must be accountable for our mistakes as Spieth did after the round. Because they will happen to all of us, even one of the best golfers in the world.

You have a “towards problem”

Sports competition often provides us with comic relief. The more down time between shots or plays gives more time for one liners and jokes. Golf is ideal for comedy for this reason, especially when you fail more in golf than you succeed which offers fodder.

While golfing with an elderly couple with whom we were paired, my wife was apprised by the gentleman late in the round that he had diagnosed her swing  problem. On the 17th fairway, he quietly said she had a “towards problem.” A “towards problem” she exclaimed. “What is that?” He said, “Your are hitting the ball towards the wrong direction.”

On another occasion, yet another elderly couple played with us. I think we attract them when we play, but now we are the elderly couple. Again, the man said to my wife on the infamous 17th hole he also had diagnosed her problem. As she was all ears, he said, “You are standing too close to the ball after you hit it.”

I used to golf with my boss, who had many one liners, some courtesy of TV evangelist Reverend Ernest Angley. If he hit into the woods, he would say, “Out Satan” or “Be healed” using his best Ernest drawl. If a tree knocked it back into the fairway, he would say “I played it off the tree.” Or, if he hit a ball into the water and it splashed out, he would say, “This game is easier when you know where all the rocks are.”

One of my favorite golfing buddies loved to offer his sayings. When he had a nice swing pattern going, he would say, “That swing was smoother than a prom queen’s thigh.” Another friend when he pulled the ball left, would call it a “Babe Ruth.” When we asked what a Babe Ruth was, he said “Yeh. A dead yank.” Another popular golf saying I think is traced to Lee Trevino, the very funny pro. He routinely hit a nice fade shot, not unlike Ben Hogan. Lee would say, “You can talk to a fade, but a hook just won’t listen.”

Some of the sayings are not very flattering, so I will leave those behind. It should not be a surprise when a guy says something that could be offensive. Much teasing can go on when your fellow foursome member tops it, hits it into the woods, does not hit past the ladies’ tee box, hits it out-of-bounds or misses an easy putt. It should be noted, my golf swing created many a comment like this.

But, the funniest line I ever heard on a golf course was by a sassy beverage cart woman. She did not take guff from anyone. One day, she had a stone hanging from a necklace. When our group inquired about it, she said “It is a sex stone.”   We asked what it did to deserve such a name. After sufficient baiting and time, she said “You don’t get it. It is just a f**king rock.”

On that note, I will say sayonara. May you find your golf balls in bounds and on the green ground. Please share some of your favorites, whether they are golf or another sport.