I am not sure how old I was when my Dad put a 9 iron in my hand in the back yard with those annoying little plastic whiffle balls to hit around, but I can remember whacking those tiny balls around the yard back and forth, to and fro…. later in life that same nine iron was the tool used for my first “real” shot on a golf course, hitting a green from about 110 yards, sticking that ball about 6 feet from the pin and gaining great praise from my Dad.
That was the shot on that course in Ontario, Oregon– Shadow Butte Golf Course, on the back nine (see photo above). Over the past few years, I’d lost my glee of the game a bit. My wrists ached, my back hurt, the walk was so long and I was just plain bad company the whole round. I could occasionally hit those shots, but they didn’t seem to stick like they used to do so. I am sure you know the feeling. No joy. No glee. No fun. My clubs sat in the garage in my house in Shanghai looking out over the 15th tee of the Jack Nicolaus golf course. A kid in a candy store with no need to even take a taste.
Then at the end of the year, I took a few hours after school and decided to play a round with some guys at work. As I stepped to the first tee, I decided I would change my mindset. Instead of swinging with hesitation, trying to guide the ball, I would revert to that 9 iron I hit from 110 when I was 13 years old. Afterall, how hard can it be. The game is about putting the ball in the hole. Just do it I thought. I relaxed my arms. Stood above the ball, took the club back with rhythm, my wrists relaxed, and swung down on that ball like I did 32 years ago. No fear, no regrets, just a decisive, direct and rhythmic swing. Even the bad shots felt good again. My wrists stopped aching. My elbows no longer were painful for 3 days after a round. More importantly, my mind was able to concentrate on putting the ball in the hole instead of worrying about striking the ball. What was taking 5 or 6 strokes took 4 or 3… even sometimes two strokes. I was able to think ahead. Look two, three and four shots ahead. I read putts and ROLLED putts rather than pushing them toward the hole. When the ball rolls toward the goal they go in a lot more often! The game has become fun again.
This coming year, I hope to play more golf, and will carve out time in the early mornings on weekends to do so. I will also take my lesson of relaxing my local intent and thinking about the 3rd, 4th and 5th steps more carefully. Long term, I need to think like a golfer and remember the intent of my work. Mark Shead wrote in his post “Leading on Purpose” on the blog Leadership 501 back in February, 2007 that leaders should examine each action from a leadership perspective. He states:
Many people get put in a leadership
position and just lead by accident. They do whatever seems good at the
time without viewing each action as part of an overall plan. Sometimes
they do great things and sometimes they do things that really hurt them
from a leadership standpoint. Leading on purpose means making decisions
as part of an overall strategy to make it easier for people to follow
you. Whenever you get ready to do something, ask yourself if it will help
or hurt your leadership influence. For example, the evening you are
asking everyone else to stay and work late, probably isn’t a good time
to announce that you are head off to see a movie.
He goes on to write:
Leading on purpose means taking the long term approach to
leadership. It means thinking about how current actions will impact
your leadership ability 4 or 5 years down the road. In many situations
leaders don’t think like this. They expect to move on in 2 or 3 years,
so they only think about short term impact.
The problem with this approach is that the leadership legacy that
you have built will follow you beyond your current job. The world is
getting smaller and it is very likely that you will be working with
someone in the future that you’ve worked with before, or who is best
friends with someone you’ve worked with before. If you haven’t done a
good job of making long term decisions, it will come back to haunt you.
I guess, in reflection, this is what I am looking to do more effectively. I need to play my game (both on the course and in my work) with the mindset of leaving a legacy. In golf, my legacy should be to look to the next shot and then next shot and the next, all honoring the placement of the one that came before it. In my work, I will strive to think about my next steps as a way to honor and follow the completed tasks of the past, building a legacy of consistency, intelligence and long term thinking. In both cases, when it comes to the completion of a job, I can confidently step up and roll the final stroke to the goal knowing that my past work will more often than not have a positive result, and if I miss my mark it won’t be by much.
One of the things I forgot to do when I was not enjoying golf was look out on a hole that stretches out before me and admire the work of the course architect and course superintendent. It is the challenge of the game that makes it fun.
The green grass, the wind, the occasional rain or the unbearable sun, it all contributes to the experience of the game.
You put your ball down.
Take a deep breath.
Maybe you take a practice swing.
Weight forward to the left.
Turn hips slightly pulling the club down the line and watch the ball fly microseconds later.
Through the club feedback is given. Did I hit? Where on the club? How solid? Which direction?
Smile- no matter what.
I bend down to pick up my tee and start thinking about the next two or three shots.
Planning, thinking, breathing but living in the moment and laughing with my coworkers and friends.
This is my lesson from a game I forgot how to enjoy.
Golf Course Photo from http://www.oregongolf.com/ontario/ontarh09.htm
Swing photo from http://bnewman2000.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/inil01_jjhenry2.jpg?w=470&h=312
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