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Tom Watson holes out from the 17th hole to beat out Jack Nicklaus for the 1982 US Open (AP)

Imagine Kobe Bryant stepping up to take a foul shot. No time on the clock. Score tied.  One shot to win.

Now imagine during the timeout they have moved the height of the basket  to 13 feet.  And the foul line has moved to 16 feet and he is required to shoot 6 feet off center.  And to top it off the ball is a foam Nerf ball and giant fans are turned on creating a varying crosswind that changes from moment to moment.

Everyone watches. Suddenly the outcome is very unsure…

I love sports and have played and coached many of the traditional sports including baseball, basketball, football, tennis, soccer, track & field and even bowling if you consider that a sport.  In High School I competed in golf. Some sports require more natural athletic talent then others.  What distinguishes golf in my mind is the individual exposure, there is no one else to depend on or fall back on, no coach to give you a pep talk. Even more significant is the time between shots.  Time to over think, time to doubt and time to second guess.  That mind over matter challenge is the reason that some basketball players can shoot lights out on the run from 25 feet but struggle to make a simple foul shot.

Contrast the simple foul shot to the golf course where the wind constantly changes, the speed of your putts change as the greens dry out during the day.  The way the ball sits in the grass and the slope of the ground vary with every shot.  And the margin of error between an excellent golfer and a championship golfer is fleeting.

Thursday marks the start of the US Open at Pebble Beach.  Tom Watson, age 60, will be paired with a couple of golfers whose combined age is 39.  And if Watson can make a large number of “foul shots,” known in golf as the 6 foot putt, you have to think he will hold his own.  But those 6 foot putts are what derailed his career.

In 1982 Tom Watson holed out an impossible shot from edge of the 17th green to hold off Jack Nicklaus and win the US Open.  Not long after that Watson lost the ability to consistently make those 6 foot putts and went from the one of the”greats” to just a very good PGA Tour golfer.

Maybe Watson didn’t deserve to make that shot in 1982.  He related once that he attempted that same shot many times a few years later and could never repeat it. But golf is like that.  Despite your best effort and your most perfect swing, some things are still unpredictable. Good and bad.  It’s kind of like life.

Golf ball in divotI’ve had several near misses at a hole-in-one over the years.  My second closest attempt came up 3 inches short.  But this was after a really poor shot that rattled around a tree overhanging the river before flying out at a 90 degree angle and running up to the hole. Sometimes you get what you don’t deserve.

By the same token nothing is more frustrating then hitting a long drive down the center of the fairway, only to discover that your ball came to rest in a divot.  There is no relief in golf; you just have to play it as it lies.

And such is life. We don’t always get what we deserve.  You might have unfairly landed in a divot today but who knows, maybe tomorrow a helpful tree will come into your life. As they teach you in golf; you have to just try your best to put the last shot behind you and move on to the next.

“Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum.” ~ Tom Watson