The unplayable lie

unplayable liePlaying the game of golf can teach you a lot about life – and many a golfer has waxed philosophical to the point where these life-lessons-I-learned-by-playing-golf are well documented. Having never been a very good golfer myself, the only thing the skill part of the game has taught me is to swear creatively and at length. But some of the most interesting lessons in golf have little to do with your ability to skillfully swing a flimsy metal club and make it hit a tiny white ball exactly where you want it to go. They are more about the decisions you make while you are on the golf course.

My favorite lesson is the “lesson of the unplayable lie.” Oftentimes when playing golf, and especially if you play like me, your ball will end up in places where it shouldn’t be: against a tree, down a gopher hole, in the middle of a construction site, etc. The rules of golf state:

The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.

In the situation where you declare a ball unplayable, you have to take a penalty stroke, drop it nearby, and continue on. The thing that gets you is that last sentence – it is at the player’s discretion, and no one else’s, as to whether the ball is unplayable or not.

Our culture teaches that generally it is a good thing to be tenacious and to keep trying. Don’t be a quitter, quitters never win. Take risks in order to succeed. When as a golfer you find yourself looking at a ball buried in scrub brush, that conditioning kicks in. Even though you might have a 1 in 1000 chance of getting it out of there, you certainly are going to give it a try. You’ll be the one who pulls it off.

Later, when you are penciling in that 14 on the scorecard after hacking it into the woods a few times, you realize that had you declared it unplayable initially, you probably would have gotten away with a 6 or 7. And you would still have that club that you threw into the woods after the 11th stroke induced a profanity-riddled fit of rage.

Learning to be completely honest with yourself, recognizing the unplayable lies when you see them, and not being afraid to quit when you see one – is the lesson. In your personal or professional life, are you staring at any unplayable lies right now?

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