What Every Ambitious Rookie (Golfer or Not) Needs to Know

Last Updated Aug 5, 2010 7:43 PM EDT

A couple of weeks ago, I played a practice round with a real tour veteran. I thought I was going to learn a lot from him and that he'd offer a lot of words of encouragement. The funny thing is, I think I helped him as much as he helped me.

This guy is in the middle stage of his career and he's had a lot of success: He played on the Nationwide Tour and then moved up to the PGA Tour and managed to win that and earn some status, too. But ever since then, his career has been in a steady decline. He's off the PGA and has been trying for a year or so to get back on but, no matter what he does, he can't seem to get his game back to where he knows it can be.

After playing with him for awhile, I understood why. We were out practicing with a bunch of other guys and he seemed to be in awe of us. And it wasn't because we were playing well. He said, "Man, when you guys hit a bad shot, you just put another one down and hit it again. You're out here every day trying to get better." This didn't seem all that unusual to me. I just went out there and did what I normally do.

He remembered what it used to feel like to head out on the course every day with that kind of persistence and optimism. But he realized he didn't have any of that anymore. He had gotten to a point where every bad shot would build up more and more resentment for the game. He had taken all of the fun out of it and didn't have any passion left for golf. It had just become a job, and one that I think he was starting to hate.

I've come to find out that there are a lot of guys on Tour who have become completely unhappy playing golf. The game consumes their whole lives and they have no way to get away from it. They get stressed out just driving over to a course.

To me, this is all more proof that I missed getting on the PGA Tour by one shot for a reason. I'm right where I'm supposed to be right now. Too many guys build up these expectations of what their careers are supposed to look like by a certain point in time. Then when reality doesn't reflect their expectations, they fixate on that. They can't get over it and their game starts to suffer.

The other reason it's good I'm not yet on the PGA: I'm still able to play with these Tour veterans and learn what not to do from them. (Once you're on the Tour, it's every man for himself; if you don't know the ins and outs of being a pro golfer -- both on and off the course -- by then, no one is going to pull you aside and explain how to do something.) Here's what I've picked up so far:

  • This is a job, but it's not just a job. I'm doing what I love and the minute I forget that, it's over.
  • When I'm off the course, I don't think about it and I don't talk about it. I put away my clubs and go have dinner with my wife, or find some other welcomed distraction to get my mind off of the game.
  • The better you play, the more that's asked of you. The solution: Get better at saying "no" tactfully when it's time to make my own game the priority.
  • Being good and talented isn't enough. When I'm playing well, it's easy to sit back on my heels and take it easy. But if I do, I'll miss so many opportunities to develop.
  • Goals are great, but... if I only think about which one I need to hit next, I'm going to have a long and frustrating career. I must learn how to decipher between process and outcome goals in order to see progress.
Have any good rookie tips I missed?