The Inner Win

Recently, I experienced a crazy moment in golf which taught me an unforgettable lesson: sometimes you hit the ball, and sometimes it hits you.

It happened during the U.S. Open Qualifying tournament in Salisbury, North Carolina. For starters, my participation in the event was no small matter. I had officially retired from the game five years ago when I thought I was too old to play professionally. But I was never the same since. Somewhere my golf DNA kept crying out, “But you are a golfer! You have to play. Competition is in your blood.” After five years of fumbling around in the dark, I mustered up all my courage to turn on the golf light again. When I did, the first tournament I had the opportunity to play in was the U.S. Open Qualifier.

“This is crazy,” I told myself. “You are out of shape. You’ve been in a car accident which has hindered your ability to swing. You have no sponsor and you haven’t been working with a swing coach for some time. All you have is a desire to compete.” Deciding my desire to compete was enough, however, I sent in my entry form.

For two months I worked on my endurance, walking vigorously on a daily basis. Knowing I couldn’t make major swing changes in a short period of time, I focused on putting, chipping, and target practice. Not wanting the pressure of a sponsor, I saved up for my tournament expenses for months. I even made a special trip to the golf course a month a head of time to learn the course. Before I left, my playing coach and I played in a special competition. With that preparation, I was as ready as I could be, given my circumstances.

Arriving at the course, I met my caddy, Betty, and we headed out to practice. On about the third hole, I was standing on a green waiting for a golfer to hit up. “Fore!” an elderly man yelled from the fairway. I quickly ducked and covered my head. “Wack!” The descending ball thrust right into my knee. I couldn’t believe it! Forty years of playing golf and this is the first time I got hit by a ball. Betty quickly helped me get into the cart as my knee began to swell. “I am not going to let this stop me!” I blurted out in a desperate attempt to shield off any threatening spirit of defeat. “I have come a long way, and I am going to play in this tournament!” “Let’s just get you some ice,” Betty responded. Back at the clubhouse, I soaked my knee and then headed back to my hotel to rest.

That night Betty called. “I was so impressed by your strong spirit today.” “You were?” I inquired surprisingly. “Why?” “Because I would have buckled under the hit. But you refused to be defeated, even by something that hurt you. You are such a trooper.”

I was amazed at her comment, and thankful, too, because the next day I did not qualify for the U.S. Open. I made it around the golf course, but I didn’t play well. The pain in my knee was miniscule compared to the pain from a recent car accident which stiffened up my shoulders and hindered my swing. But there was still victory in store for me which I never would have known if the golf ball didn’t hit me.

Sometimes the victory appears when you hit the ball. This time, however, I discovered victory in the ball hitting me. I believe that happened for me to see how far I had come in the growth of my own spirit. The very thing that influenced me to quit golf five years ago was a defeated spirit. What a thrill it was for me to realize that I now had a strong spirit. It was a victory that I could truly treasure, despite my score.

The lesson of the golf ball hit even touched Betty as I was able to encourage her in areas where she needed to grow strong in spirit. What I learned from this experience was that golf is so much bigger than shooting a score. It is a reflector of life—and on that course, I discovered an inner win that even transcended securing a bid for the U.S. Open.

Sometimes you hit the ball, and sometimes it hits you. When it does, let your spirit advance from defeat and arise to victory!