- Preparing for a first-in-a-lifetime experience. It helps to remember that every experience is first-in-a-lifetime.
Intimidation and fear of embarrassment almost caused me to beg out of playing in the tournament. (The way I played, Odum very well may wish I had!) But how often does the president of a multinational corporation invite you play golf with him, a former U.S. Secretary of State, an NFL Hall of Famer and a PGA Tour champion? How many more invitations would I have received had I declined the first one? If I never get a chance to do it again, I did it once. If I’d said, “No, thank you,” first-in-a-lifetime would quite likely have become never. One of my rules of success: Be afraid, be very afraid—and do it anyway.
- Today is a character test day. Actually every day is, but usually it’s a series of pop quizzes. This is a scheduled major exam.
The exam was about a very simple concept: It’s not about me. Of our fivesome, I was the last person people came to see. It would have been very easy to call attention to myself by throwing a fit every time I couldn’t hit the ball, cursing myself for what I didn’t do to prepare, maybe blurting a few obscenities to show how hard I was trying and how much I hate to lose, all of which would have communicated only one thing—that I was self-centered and feeling sorry for myself. Whether you’re the star player or the team liability, it’s not about you. In fact, it’s never about you.
The stuttering boxer in the Eddie Murphy film Harlem Nights had it right: “Don’t t-take this-s-s ass whuppin’ p-personally.” I’m not saying there weren’t times when I felt discouraged. I’m saying that it was more important to relax, learn, enjoy the experience and remember that we were doing this for charity. I just hope that I passed this particular exam in the eyes of my teammates.
- The difference between a star and a superstar: superstars know how to treat people. It’s why they still shine long after stars are forgotten.
Smith and Couples, the sport icons in our group, were shining examples of this, granting seemingly endless requests for autographs and photo-ops from fans as we walked the tournament course, never failing to be patient, gracious and cordial. This says a lot about them, of course, but it’s also representative of the etiquette and sportsmanship of golf itself. During the entire time we spent together on the course, I was never, ever ridiculed or made to feel unwelcome because of my poor performance. Shell President Odum was ever the gracious host. Sec. Baker and Smith were friendly and encouraging—offering fist bumps every time I managed to actually hit the ball decently. Even my caddy Cory Lewis, a 20-year-old who relocated from Columbus, Ohio, to Houston to pursue a pro golf career, was nothing but supportive. And I owe a special debt of gratitude to Chris Normyle, Shell Oil’s manager of sponsorships and events, who literally walked with me from hole to hole during the tournament, coaching and encouraging me every step of the way. It’s no surprise that golf is one of the few major sports left where the concept of etiquette still matters.
- It’s impossible to excel at much if you can’t accept starting out poorly. The difference between winners and losers: winners keep going.
The easiest thing to do after a day of frustration, humiliation and embarrassment is to quit, to abandon whatever pursuit led you down the path of that unpleasant experience. For better or worse, that’s just not how I roll. For some reason, losing only reminds me of how much I like to compete and love to win. When I participated in my first amateur bodybuilding competition more than a decade ago, I had no idea what I was doing—and came in dead last in my class. But I had such a good time and learned so much that my enjoyment took precedence over my embarrassment, and I did better in subsequent shows, even earning a few trophies along the way. I had the same experience in the Pro-Am: appalled at my performance, but so appreciative of the experience that it didn’t matter. I’m a winner. I’m going to keep going—and golfing.
The truth is, no matter how many lessons you take or number of visits to the driving range, golf is just like everything else in life—you only get better at it by committing to it, not just dabbling at it. It took a day of humiliation in the company of a star on the PGA Tour, a global political statesman, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and the president of Shell, but I finally got it. Though I played the Pro-Am with rental clubs, I left Houston with my very first set of clubs—some nice stainless steel Callaway Diablo Edge Irons—along with a Callaway golf bag and an Odyssey White Ice putter, courtesy of a Pro-Am shopping spree after the tournament. (They spotted us a credit of $600 each!) I’ll be taking lessons again, but this time with a commitment to practice what I learn and play as much as I can. My first goal: to compete at the Black Enterprise/Pepsi Challenge in Miami five months from now.
So, I tip my hat to Marvin Odum, Emmitt Smith, Sec. James Baker and Fred Couples. Thanks to you, I’m no longer playing around with golf. I am a golfer. By the time I face getting mauled on a golf course again, I’ll have done my best to be prepared to fight back.