the best way

by Jim Corbett

As you play golf you will, no doubt, notice the many signs along the way to help you reach your goal. There are bushes or markers that indicate that you are 150 yards from the center of the green. There are sprinkler heads sprinkled all over the course that have yardage markers posted on them to give you a gauge from many points along the course. Some courses have maps at the tees giving a clear picture of the layout of the hole you are about to play, with all of the hazards clearly outlined and allowing you to plan the safest and most advantageous path to the green.

There are also a multitude of aids to help you to swing the club properly, too. You can choose from hundreds of books, videos, CD-ROM’s and web-sites. You can take lessons from pros at the golf course or at the driving range. You can have your own swing video-taped and analyzed, you can glean the experience of friends and acquaintances and learn from the folklore of hundreds of years of golfing history. There is, literally, no end to the assistance you can get to help improve your swing.

But, with all of these maps and markers and bushes and books, these lessons and lore and tid-bits and tapes, is there any assurance that you will actually learn what it is they are trying to show? Not really. Is there any guarantee you will heed the messages or take the directions? Absolutely not. Is it a foregone conclusion that the information being conveyed through this myriad of media will sink in and have an impact on your game? I don’t think so.

Why not? It seems simple enough. If you follow these straight forward directions you will succeed. If you just heed the advice that is being given (and some of this advice is tailored to fit your exact situation) you will achieve the goal you long for.

Well, if you take a stroll back through history, you’ll see that humans have demonstrated an unbelievable ability to ignore sound advice and to chart paths that, with the aid of a little hindsight, have proved over and over again to be absolutely ridiculous. It’s easy to look back and chuckle at the likes of General Custer and say, “If he had only listened to his scouts.” But which one of us can turn back from the chance to chart new territory in the face of sound advice to the contrary? I guess that is a part of what makes us human — a sense of adventure and a need to explore the unknown. A need to be our own person. A need to be a pig-headed, incredibly obstinate jerk.

That is probably why when we see a map of the hole posted at the tee, and the map even includes directional lines that show where your first hit should land in order to give you the best opportunity to get your second shot onto the green, we still get up there and hit the ball into the woods. Have you ever seen a sign on the golf course that showed the best place to land your first shot is in the woods? If you have, you should report that course to the USGA immediately!

I once played golf all by myself in the wee early hours of a very dewy summer’s morn. It was my plan to play a quick round before work, so I got to the course right at sun-up and was the first golfer out. Being the first one to step foot on the course that morning, I was faced with fairway after fairway and green after green sparkling under a sheet of crystal dew drops as the rising sun glistened through them. Each fairway and green was pure and unspoiled by the corruption of even one footprint. Those who came behind me would be able to trace my complete game by the single track of prints I left and the places where I dropped my bag to take a shot.

On one hole I hit my second shot pin high, but a little to the right of the green. I was in some high, wet grass next to the green as I eyed my chip shot. I popped it up and it ran straight to the pin, but I hit it a bit too hard and it skipped right over the cup. As it scooted away from the hole it arced in a broad sweep that hugged the contour of the green and came to rest about fifteen feet from the target. I walked across the green that was now marked only by the path that my ball had made in the wet grass and I saw that since the ball had skipped directly over the cup, the path in the dew led straight from my ball right into the hole itself.

I surveyed the situation, lined up my putt for par and, for some reason, I decided that the correct line for this putt was just a few inches to the left of the line in the dew. I stepped up, took a practice swing and hit the ball. It ran up toward the cup and my distance was perfect. In fact I can say with complete assurance that it was exactly the right distance for that putt because it landed right next to the cup — exactly the distance to the left that I calculated I needed to hit it to the left of the existing line.

I remember thinking to myself, as I watched the ball move across the green and little by little get more and more off the proper line, “What is wrong with my brain?” There, right before my very eyes, was an unprecedented gift from the gods of golf. It was a line, like the bright yellow line down the middle of a highway, leading right to where I wanted to go. It wasn’t just an imaginary line like the ones I’ve drawn so many times when trying to line up putts before; I knew this was real because I had just watched it come FROM the hole TO this spot. It was like a sign that seemed to say, “You’re not such a bad guy, so we, the golfing gods, have decided to help you out here.”

It will probably be a long time before the golfing gods bestow another gift like that one on ME. Because instead of demonstrating my gratitude and humbly accepting the gift, I cavalierly charted my own path and learned the lesson of the sadder, but wiser multitudes who understand the meaning of not following the path that is shown.

But the trick in life, as well as in golf, is to see the various paths that lie before you, sensibly weigh the pros and cons of each and correctly choose the one that is right for you, and then live with the consequences — or as in the case of Custer, NOT live with the consequences.

And always remember the immortal words of Robert Frost:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sometimes The Way Is Shown