Ducks On The Water

Skimming the leaderboard at the WGC – HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, I was looking for a story that would make a difference.

I noticed a couple of stellar rounds on the board by a pair of South Africans. Superstar, Ernie Els, shot 7-under in an 8-birdie, 1-bogey masterpiece and his journeyman countryman, Jaco Van Zyl, shot 6-under. But his was the round that got me thinking. If you look at his scorecard, you see that he had an eagle, seven birdies and three bogeys. Quite a patchwork he put together.

Searching for Tiger and Phil, I saw an even par round and a 1-under round; they basically didn’t move anywhere. Then I took a look at their scorecards. Tiger’s card reveals that while he didn’t move anywhere on the day, he was up and down all day with five birdies and five bogeys (three out of four holes at one point). Phil’s card shows the same pattern except he had one more birdie than his four bogeys.

Then I looked at other cards that were around par on the day and each of them had the same pattern too: American, Ryan Palmer at even; Korean, Noh Seung-Yul at even; Swede, Fredrik Andersson Hed at 1-under; and, the most illustrative, Spaniard, Pablo Martin at 1-over with five birdies, two bogeys and two double-bogeys.

What do each of these last six cards have in common? That in spite of disappointments throughout the round, these guys all stayed in the game. They didn’t let temporary disappointments and setbacks pull them off of their intention to have a good round. Like ducks on the water, while their final scores looked placid and unremarkable and their demeanor hardly changed during the day, beneath the water they were paddling like crazy to hold it together. In professional golf, you can’t go backward.

Tour players have learned about attitude. They know that while they always play their rounds with the intention of scoring well, that’s not always going to happen. But it’s always still possible to try to play your best even when it’s not happening. You’ll notice that while they may play emotionally, very few of them play in anger or upset. They have learned that those negative emotions are a slippery slide into the swirl of the egoic mind. You have no chance if you give in to them just because the facts on the ground may not be pleasant for the moment.

The key is to adopt a way of being that transcends the ego by maintaining a balanced, positive attitude no matter what. And access to that way of being is always the same, by being in touch with the spiritual essence that resides in each of us through meditation or other spiritual practices. Even just simple contemplation can be quite transformative. Ego will always try to dominate the spirit. It needs to be the other way around.

A friend of mine recently died unexpectedly. Keith Harrell was a former college basketball star at Seattle University, a 14-year veteran of IBM sales methods and ultimately one of the most successful motivational speakers in the country. In his book, Attitude is Everything, Keith shared a story from his high school basketball days. His team came into a semi-final game in the state tournament with as much fanfare as a 22-0 record would demand. But with just three minutes to go and down by seven, the team was demoralized and resigned to losing. But in a timeout, Keith declared that they were going to win the game, demanded the ball, his team rallied and they won by seven. As he said, it was his Hollywood moment.

And Keith lived the lesson from that night throughout his life. If you asked him how he was doing, his answer was always the same, “Super Fantastic!” And I am sure that was his answer until the day he died.

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