Since ego is such a dominant force in our lives, one of the most powerful stoppers the ego uses is the risk of embarrassment. “What would people think if I missed this putt?” “I didn’t quite catch that iron. Did anyone hear that?” “I’ve got my brand new driver in the bag. Has anyone noticed that I too have the latest and greatest?”
All of this is hopelessly futile because it’s not the true measure of who we are. It’s the woeful yearning to be accepted by the hapless ego. We live and die by what people say about us, what they think about us, when, in fact, our true self, our spiritual essence, is perfect just as it is and requires no such validation.
And nowhere, it seems, are our insecurities more exposed than on a golf course. Back in my golf school days, one of our coaches shared this story with our students at one of our schools.
John had confessed to my partner, Fred Shoemaker, that he was scared to death to 3-putt because of what he feared his fellow competitors would think of him as a player. Because of this he was not putting well. He was playing in local professional tournaments at the time with inconsistent results, so Fred told him that the next time he found himself out of the tournament, he should deliberately 12-putt just to see what the other players would do. The catch was that he couldn’t tell anybody what he was doing, he had to go through his pre-shot routine on every putt and he had to make it look like he was trying to make every putt. (Before you think this too absurd, Zach Johnson 6-putted in San Antonio this year.)
Sure enough, John eventually found himself out of the tournament at one point and facing a very long putt. And so he left it short…pre-shot routine…and the next one… pre-shot routine…and knocked the third one further by on the other side… pre-shot routine…and blocked the next one right… pre-shot routine…and pulled the next one left… pre-shot routine…and so on…until he left the tap-in on the lip…which he tapped in for his 12-putt.
He bent over, picked his ball out of the hole, and headed for the next tee.
His fellow competitors were aghast and beside themselves…but for him. The guy keeping his card strode up next to him and put his arm around his shoulders. “John! Are you okay! Geez. What happened there? I don’t even know how many that was! How many was it? Are you okay? Geez, John. How did that happen? Oh, no. Too bad. Geez.”
Now maybe John’s fellow competitors reacted that way because of the enormity of what had just happened—certainly a possibility—but maybe that’s what it took to tap into who they really were too. Everybody 3-putts…and nobody cares or much notices but the putter. But a 12-putt? That’s like the emotions that are elicited by natural disasters. It’s inconceivable. How did that happen? Oh, Geez.
So the thing that John most feared was something on nobody’s mind but his. And what he found out from his little exercise was that it was what was in people’s hearts that was actually at work, not what they were thinking. And what he found in their hearts was charity and compassion.
I couldn’t think of a better season to retell John’s story. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.