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Like the vast majority of golfers, I was ruled by the concept of fairness. My self-worth was a reflection of my golf score. When I first began playing, I would move my ball to improve my lie or to eliminate an obstacle from its path.
As my game improved, I felt the need to move my ball less frequently, except on occasions when the concept of fairness came into play. When a ball is struck cleanly, soaring directly at its selected target, we deserve to be aptly rewarded. This ball, dead center in the fairway, merits an appropriate lie, not a resting place in a divot or another poor setting. Good shots SHOULD be rewarded. So we move that ball. Fairness calls for it. I, like most other golfers, would move it.
In time, guided by the wisdom of Harvey Penick, a profound change began to free me. Golf was not about fairness. The ball was to be played from where it sat. There are benefits to this approach, Mr. Penick said, and I sought to discover them. In golf, as in life, obstacles are placed in our path. In overcoming these roadblocks, our greatest triumphs occur. By improving our lie, we are only cheating ourselves out of the opportunity to achieve.
There are no good or bad lies, only what is. When we see things as they are, without judgment, we provide ourselves an opportunity to come through with our best performances. This state of mind will not ensure success, only our best effort. For me, there was a gradual change in my outlook. At first, in situations when that concept of fairness came into play, the unfairness of my lie dominated my thoughts. Weak shots tended to follow. Over time, as I began to free my mind of judgments, better results occurred. I began to look at situations objectively and make determinations that would give me the maximum chance for success.
One anecdote always comes to mind. I was paired with a stranger, playing a difficult par-5. I hit two perfect shots. 100 yards to the pin, MY perfect distance, but in a two inch hole. My mind lapsed to a similar situation earlier that week. That divot seized my club head and as a result, I yanked the ball into the woods. I remembered that although the result was poor, I was proud that I did what was right. My thoughts now returned to the present situation, and as I chose my course of action, I remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to stick it and make birdie." Just before I was ready to hit, I glanced at my playing partner. His look seemed to say, “What are you doing? Take the ball out of that hole."
I stuck that ball two feet from the pin and made birdie. I smiled, inside and out. As we left the green, he asked me why I didn't move my ball. After all, I WAS in a hole in the fairway. “Because that's not golf," I replied. Even as I'm writing now, I can still feel the sense of fulfillment, a warm feeling in my belly, that I had accomplished something special.
I believe these little victories, in golf and in life, build character and make us better golfers—better human beings. We can't always win, but by playing our cards as they are dealt, we can achieve immense satisfaction and greater personal growth. That's why we play the ball where it lies.