It was a beautiful day. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining and I felt like I had just gotten hit by a bus. I was walking off the 4th hole of my first ever, big professional tournament and I had just made a 13.
That 13 was six years ago; long before I knew the value of focusing on a shot by shot routine. That 13 was where I learned that if you hit it in the desert, you must make sure to get out on your next shot or you will be trapped forever with nowhere to go.
I still remember that 4th hole of the tournament like it was yesterday. It was 350 yards, uphill into a little breeze. I pulled my 3-hybrid into the left desert off of the tee. I was only about 10 feet from the fairway, but it was too far to take a drop for an unplayable lie. I had a rock right behind my ball and I should have picked the ball up, swallowed my two shot penalty, and walked all the way back to the tee.
However, because of my lack of experience, I was focused on shooting a round in the 60’s. I had birdied the first hole and I just knew that I was going to make a lot of birdies that day. I quickly decided that I could purposely blade my ball out of the desert and that it would roll all of the way up the hill onto the green.
Well, I bladed that second shot a little too well and the ball rolled over the green into some bushes and came to rest in a little canyon in the desert. When I found my ball, I realized that the situation was not good. My pulse quickened and I started praying for a miracle.
I had three options. #1.) I could take a penalty and drop in the desert from where I had just bladed my second shot. #2.) I could take a penalty and drop in the desert farther behind the green. #3.) I could just play it from where it lay without penalty.
I made the fatal mistake of playing it where it lay. I chose to hit a flop shot off of a hard-pan lie, out of the bushes, over a 6 foot canyon wall, to a flag that was only a tantalizing 15 yards away. Long story short, I wasn’t successful. I wasn’t successful on the first try, I wasn’t successful after a drop on the second try, or the third try or the fourth… I’m sure you get the picture.
By this point there was a rules officials trying to help me get out of this situation. After every one of my futile attempts to hit the ball out of the desert, he would show me my options. He had a look on his face that showed part annoyance and part amusement.
Needless to say I was not amused. When I glanced back down the fairway I realized that there were three or four groups on the tee box all waiting for me. I also noticed that my playing partners were sitting down on the grass with the same look on their faces that was on the face of the rules official. I felt like I was trapped in jail with nowhere to go and no one to call.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was able to hit my ball clear over the green into the desert on the other side. From there I chipped it on the green and made a 15 foot putt for a something. To this day I don’t know if I really made a 13. I hit so many shots, feeling so many emotions, I must have been walking around like a zombie. It was the rules official and my playing partners who came up with the number 13.
Going through this experience was no fun. I had to deal with the feeling of losing a large amount of my sponsor’s money. I had to deal with the feeling that I looked very foolish out there on the course. I had to play the rest of that round and the next knowing that I had no chance of making the cut.
This experience and the ensuing tournaments for the next year and a half, taught me the importance of sticking to a process while not worrying about results. I can honestly say that I am now thankful for this experience. It was my first lesson in the real value of tough situations, and how those tough situations are actually a great opportunity to learn what really is important.
Because of this time in my life, I will never again put too much emphasis on what I shoot. No matter if it is an 89 or a 59. Instead I will take pride in the fact that I do my best in my practice, and I do the best I can at sticking to my process on the course no matter what the result.