U.S. Open Qualifier FAIL


Just like the old days when golf tournaments were a source of income, I once again put myself out there last week in the U.S. Open Local Qualifier – throwing it all on the line, all for the world to see.

And, well, I failed.  Miserably.  I mean, miserably.

I striped it on the range to warm up – been swinging the club extremely well as of late – my putting felt solid on the slick practice green, and I really did feel ready to qualify for my fourth U.S. Open Sectional.

Tee shot setupBut it didn’t happen.  Something went awry between that last four-footer warming up and when my name was called to the first tee en route to signing for that ugly 79.

My coaching advice to any client, or any student-athlete I’ve coached is to always embrace the moment. Taking that approach helped me advance to the Sectional in both 2009 and 2010.

But, what if you just can’t do it?  What if your body is already stuck in that fight-or-flight phase that has your heart racing, vision blurred and body shaking like a small dog in a cold rainstorm?

These are the feelings I’ve battled on and off in my golf game since a rough collegiate tournament experience I had when I was 21, and these were the feelings I once again experienced on this fateful day.

I suppose it’s part of what’s made me a good coach, because I’ve definitely been there, done that, when it comes to just about any situation on the course when a player “loses it.” I’ve experienced first-hand just about everything a player can go through.

The truth is it happens to all of us, sometimes, in varying degrees and with different symptoms. But, what exactly is ‘it’ when it comes to the exact moment when you know what hits the fan?

I recently researched ‘fight or flight response’ to see what the Internet had so say about the matter, and what I found was interesting: This innate response is basically a survival instinct that creates physiological changes in our bodies to prepare us for life-threatening situations.

Now, of course we’re not in danger for our lives out there (even though it can feel like it), but when we lose that feeling of competency on the golf course – no matter if we’re a 2 handicap or 20 – and there’s any pressure situation where we feel it necessary to perform, that basic survival response hits us and there’s almost nothing we can do about it.

Almost.

So, we’ve established embracing the moment didn’t work for me – which means that I wasn’t breathing very well, my view of “the big picture” was all but shot, and I was stuck with thoughts of doom and gloom that nearly dominated whatever I was trying to do in the moment.

So, what do we do? Pack it up and call it day? Sit there and cry in front of our playing partners?

Not that I didn’t wanted to do both of those, but the answer I’ve come to since last week, and after playing 26 years of competitive golf, is that there is no clear answer.

As I referenced how embracing the moment helped me overcome some of these feelings – in 2009 when I did make the Sectional, I wasn’t able to repeat that same mantra and never could quite calm down during 36-hole rounds of 89-81.  I remember warming up that day and something was just off. My arms felt like Jell-O, my vision was blurred over putts and I felt like passing out a few times. And this was before I teed off.

To put those numbers in perspective (even though it was a tough course set up to Championship regulations), when I was playing professional golf full-time in 2001 and 2002, I didn’t shoot one round of 80 or above in over 80 competitive rounds of golf.

Point is that when you’re stuck, you’re stuck, and it’s that feeling of helplessness that is the most distressing to us.

So, again, what do we do?

If there is any answer, I suppose it would be this, which is my philosophy of coaching: Know that this feeling, too, shall pass.  We play golf because it’s challenging and rewarding at the same time – so, when all else fails, get back up on the horse and give it another shot.

Isn’t that what life is all about anyway?

That’s how I’m taking it, at least. I failed miserably, and even though it still doesn’t sit well, and may never, I’ll be getting back out there – remembering that it’s how we get up from a fall in golf that’s the only thing that matters, just like in life.