Four true stories per my friend Bobby

This weekend, I was reminded of an old friend Bobby. I was a client and friend of Bobby and his team. Four poignant stories come to mind about him or his team. I should mention Bobby was a good golfer. I once witnessed him make five birdies in a row en route to a seven under par 65. But, that is not one of the stories.

Bobby told me of the time he was playing in his club championship. Telling the story, he was down two holes heading into the 16th hole. He birdied the 16th and 17th holes to tie and then stood on the 18th tee. He then proceeded ls to top his shot into the lake. One friend shouts and accepts money from another saying “I knew he was going to do that.” Yet, the story becomes funnier when he over heard his caddy relate the story about how  “we birdied the 16th and 17th to tie, then ‘he’ hits it into the lake.”

On a more serious note, a tragedy ended well for his friend and colleague. Bobby received a call at night that his colleague’s 54 seat plane had crashed and there were only four survivors. Bobby got the call as the ticket was purchased by his firm. He called all of the hospitals and learned his friend was one of the four. He called his friend’s wife to let her know there had been a crash, but her husband had survived, was hurt but OK.

The friend said he survived because he was calm and followed instruction while others went beserk. Although not an overly religious man, he made his peace. He said the crash was more violent than he could possibly describe and afterward he smelled jet fuel and crawled toward the cold January breeze. He said he felt like he crawled 100 feet, when it turned out to be only twenty.

Then, there is the story about another colleague who was driving along I-85, when a car veered across the median and hit him head on. This was before the wired fence-like structures were erected in the median to prevent such occurrences. They both walked away from the accident as both cars had driver side air bags. Bobby’s colleague suffered only broken knee caps.

Finally, on a more humorous note, another  colleague was working in their office in Greensboro. A friend called him and asked him what he was doing that day. He said he was working and his friend said he needed to play golf. To his “no” response, his friend said you need to play because you are the only member of this club and I have someone who wants to play with you. It turned out to be Michael Jordan. Jordan, eventually played 54 holes of golf, but Bobby’s friend begged off after a very tiring 36 holes.

Thanks for indulging my memories. I actually have a few more Bobby stories, but this will give you a good taste. These remembrances made me smile.

 

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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.

 

The more I practice, the luckier I get

One of the better golfers and competitors of any era was a diminutive man from South Africa named Gary Player. He held his own against the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer winning nine major championships.

During one of his major wins, a reporter asked Player about a lucky shot Player had hit during the round that day. Player responded, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

This straightforward answer applies to many things in life. Whether it is golf, basketball, baseball or another sport the more you practice the luckier you will get. But, it applies to music, art, school and work. The more time you practice, the luckier the outcome.

Golf is as good a metaphor of life as there is. In essence, playing golf is managing your mistakes. By practicing, the mistakes are narrowed. In other words, you can more easily find your golf ball in the realm of play after a shot the more you practice.

Very few golfers practice like Vijay Singh. Singh was a very good player, but made himself a great player through outlasting anyone on the practice tee. Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winning football player made himself bigger and faster by doing over a thousand sit-ups, push-ups and wind sprints each day. That is not a misprint. Larry Bird made himself a better shooter by shooting countless shots  after team practice.

Per Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” The Beatles became better musicians by playing seven sets, six nights a week in Hamburg, Germany. To keep their sanity, The Beatles had to learn and play new songs.  Joe Walsh, who had many hits as an excellent guitarist and member of The Eagles said, the more you play the less awful you become.

So, practice and practice some more. You may get luckier or, at least, become less awful.

Great Rivalries

Having just concluded a very exciting NBA basketball final pitting two great teams and players, I am reminded of when sporting events are at their finest. It is due to great rivalries, be it players or teams. Much of the rivalry’s greatness is due to opportunity and timing, but it is also due to proximity and passion. Tiger Woods will eventually be remembered as one of the greatest golfers ever. Yet, he has not benefitted from having a great rival, as he was a cut above for most of his career. Only when he had injuries and philandering issues, did the bloom fall of the rose.

Conversely, Jack Nicklaus had several rivals throughout his career that made his greatness more memorable. Very few people remember how he was not liked at first as he was a challenge to Arnold Palmer who was literally the first TV sports star. Arnie still won while Jack was around, but it made for great theatre, when the two dueled and it became obvious Jack was the better player. Gary Player, Lee Trevino and eventually Tom Watson were up to the challenge to battle Jack. Probably the greatest golf match I have seen was at the British Open, when Tom beat Jack by one stroke with both playing at their very finest and together at Turnberry.

Tennis has several examples of great rivalries, even today. More recently, to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in their epic battles at Wimbledon and the French Open is about as good as it gets. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe staged several memorable breakfasts at Wimbledon (with sequels at the US Open), especially during one of the longest tiebreaker matches I have witnessed, complete with a diving McEnroe during his eventual loss to Borg. On the women’s side, seeing Chris Evert, the best clay court player, and Martina Navratilova, the best grass and overall player, battle at Wimbledon and the US Open was also a privilege.

On the basketball court, it is usually more about team rivalries, but one that transcended into individual player rivalry were two team-oriented players – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Magic’s team won five NBA titles to Larry’s three, plus Magic’s college team beat Larry’s team in their final year of college. Both were known more for their elegant and artful passing which had truly become a lost art. They made their teams better. The NBA was actually in trouble (with some finals played on TV tape delay) when the two joined the league and their rivalry brought it back to prime time.

Yet, teams sports are more about team rivalries, so the fact that Bird played for the Boston Celtics and Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers was fortuitous, as it was a coast to coast rivalry of excellence built over time dating back to the 1960s. That made their individual rivalry even greater to watch. While this was coast to coast, most team rivalries are legendary because of proximity and passion. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees rivalry is perhaps the best example in this country, but it may be “rivaled” on the college level by Duke University and the University of North Carolina, as they sit only eight miles apart.

Both sets of fans are passionate and their team’s success is as much a part of who they are as anything else. There are great HBO documentaries on both rivalries, but one of the things I most remember from watching them, is when the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees and eventually won the World Series about ten years ago, Red Sox fans would take pennants, bobble head dolls and ball caps to the cemetery to celebrate with their dad, mom, uncle or aunt who had passed away without witnessing a triumph over the Yankees in the playoffs. Their teams meant so much to the deceased, their children had to celebrate with them.

Please forgive me if I slighted your favorite rivalry. Ohio State/ Michigan, Alabama/ Auburn, etc. are all great rivalries. By not listing your favorite was only due to brevity not malice. And, please forgive this US centric post, as I am certain there are many rivalries that could “rival” the above. I would love to hear about some your favorites. Please share them for all to see.

Like golf, life is managing your mistakes

For those who have played golf, you know all to well, it is a game of managing your mistakes. This is especially true for higher handicap players like myself. It can be a frustrating game until you reach the understanding that if you can find the ball and it is in play, you can keep playing it. The game is far more challenging when your ball cannot be found on land or between the out-of-bounds stakes. Life is like this as well.

If you believe in the Divine, you know that God has a sense of humor. He created us imperfect beings who are full of faults, idiosyncracies, and less than pure thoughts. He also created us with the power to be generous and good. So, as we meander down the paths presented in our lives, many of us will endeavor to do the best we can, but we will make mistakes along the way. Not unlike the errant golf shot. We would like to drive it straight down the middle with some distance, but we will slice, hook, top, or dare I say miss entirely, the ball. It is at these moments on the golf course and, even in life, to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself. The old line is true – “laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you.”

We are human and we will make mistakes. Like topping a ball in golf, we may miss an important event or fail to be somewhere we should. We may get drunk and make a fool of ourselves. The best thing to do is fess up, say I am sorry and try to do better. After a topped shot, it is embarrassing, but you can walk up to your ball and play it again. Chuckling with your friends while you walk (and usually you can) will be the golf equivalent of fessing up that yes, you hit that shot.

Some of our transgressions will be far worse than the above and I know comparing them to a golf shot may be seen as trivializing them. But, if you bear with me, when you do make the more egregious error on the golf course, such as hitting it in the water or out-of-bounds, you are not dead. You are penalized for the mistake. So, let’s say I screw up and commit a crime. That could be akin to hitting the ball out-of-bounds. On the golf course, you are charged with a penalty shot and are obligated to hit again from the same spot, in essence a two shot penalty. In golf, if you shake it off, you are more likely to hit a better shot the second time. If you sulk or pout, you are more inclined to hit another bad shot. So, when you screw up in life, accept your punishment and try to do better, learning from your mistakes.

Instead, if you hit the ball in the water, the penalty may not be as egregious. You are charged with a penalty shot, but may be able to play the ball from an advanced position. So, hitting the ball in the water is not quite as bad, but you still have to react in the same way or you might hit another bad shot. Hitting the ball out-of-bounds, may be like committing a felony, while hitting the ball in the water, is like committing a misdemeanor. Or, if we are likely to not commit a crime, the out-of-bounds may be like being fired, while in the water, may be when you are only put on probation.

The only things you can do is to laugh it off, forget about it and keep playing. Learning from your mistakes is good as well. Many poor golf shots could be due to lack of concentration or poor tempo. Life would also mirror those suggested actions. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them. Einstein even said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” That would likely hold true on the golf course, as well.

A key to learning from your mistakes is to prevent them (or lessen them) from happening in the first place or the next time you are on the course. Golf provides a good glimpse of the impact good practice and preparation can have on the results. It is one of the best metaphors for life. Through practicing at what you are less proficient, you can lessen the margin of error on your mistakes and heighten the chance for success. In the case of golf, this means finding your ball in play more. Gary Player, the great South African golfer, once responded to a reporter’s query about a lucky shot. Player said, “I find that the more I practice, the luckier I get.” Whether it is preparation for a test, a big meeting, a speech, etc., the more you prepare, the likelihood of a better outcome has increased. And, in being prepared, you may build your confidence level.

Improved confidence is important as another key frailty we have is our self-esteem. This comes out on the golf course, as well. Preparation and practice will help you combat feelings of low self-esteem, because you are taking action. If I am nervous about something, doing something about it makes me less so. Getting back to laughing at your mistakes will help, too. Others might tease you, but you should understand that is their mechanism to deal with your golf mistake. If you understand going in you will make mistakes, you are less embarrassed when they do happen. I recall my wife listening to an elderly golfer that we played with in the mountains. Around the 17th hole, he cozied up to her and said “I think I know your problem.” When she asked what it was, he said, “You are standing to close to the ball after you hit it.” That brought a great laugh and eased her up for the remaining two holes. It taught her not to take it so seriously.

I know I have trivialized life comparing it to golf, but let me close with a true barometer. Someone once told me, if you want to see into someone’s character, play golf with him. I had a boss that was an unabashed cheater on the golf course. His score would often be only in proximity to the actual number of shots taken. This was a “what’s in it for me?” boss. And, the lack of respect he was given was well-earned at work and on the golf course. I have also played golf with adults, who would throw temper tantrums on the golf course over their errors. You came to learn these were people you wanted to avoid at work as well. They were wound a little too tight.

Life is tough, but it is the only one we have. You will screw up and others will screw you as well. Live your life the way you want to live it. Worry less about what others think and more about what gives you peace, joy, sense of purpose. If you want to be better at something, work at it. In so doing, your confidence level will increase. If you screw up, shake it off, laugh it off, say your sorry and keep playing. If someone cheats on you, then you can make the decision to call them in on it or refuse to play with them in the future. And, when life puts you in the high rough, find your ball, chip it back into play, and find your new path forward.