GOING FOR IT VERSUS PLAYING IT SAFE
Phil Mickelson exults after going for the green from out of the woods on the 13th at the Masters instead of playing it safe.
Life is meant to be fully lived and celebrated but that can't be accomplished by playing it safe as Phil Mickelson proved with his memorable life affirming golf shot at the 2010 Masters: Allen L RolandI've always lived on the edge and earned a few lumps for going for it when perhaps I should have laid back and played it safe. Life is like that ~ there are always moments when an opportunity presents itself to do something truly heroic, or astonishing for that matter. We know it in our gut and if we say YES to ourselves in that moment, without getting into our head, the heroic and astonishing can truly happen but the most important point is that we went for it ~ we didn't play it safe, we didn't say NO to ourselves, we did not allow ourselves to be controlled by fear.
Such a moment was there for the world to see and learn from on Sunday, April 11th, 2010 when Phil Mickelson, seemingly stymied behind a tree on the 13th hole of the Masters at Augusta, Georgia and 209 yards from the hole with Rae's creek in front and his caddy begging him to lay up and play it safe. Mickelson said " I'm going for it " and indeed went for it. The result was a shot that will be carved in the memories of golf fans everywhere, including myself, and eventually another green jacket for Phil Mickelson.
Joe Posanski, Senior writer Sports Illustrated, also captured the significance of that magnificent moment and called it " The Shot that defined this Masters "
AUGUSTA, Ga. " The beautiful thing about golf is that, in the end, it is all about what you have to give. You can’t wait for a pitcher to hang a curveball. You don’t look for your opponent to drop his left. You don’t hope for a defender to fall for a fake left. You can’t take advantage of second serves. No, it's just you and the golf course and the possibilities.
Phil Mickelson's ball rested on top of the pine straw behind a tree at the 13th hole in Sunday’s final round of the Masters. He was facing his second shot, and he saw an opening. That's a gift of Mickelson's, of course: His ability to see clearings where others see traffic jams. That's also a weakness. Sometimes there really are traffic jams.
Mickelson loved his lie. His ball was resting right on top of the straw, looking pretty, like it was pleading: "Come on Phil. Go for it." Good lies can be an illusion, of course. It was a good lie that inspired Jean van de Velde to try a crazy second shot on the final hole of the 1999 British Open. He hit that ball into the stands and it bounced back into a valley of death and he lost a tournament that he had won. Golfers do believe that, with good lies, anything is possible.
Mickelson looked at his opening again. It was maybe four feet wide, plenty wide enough, if he hit it good. But could he count on hitting the ball good? This was the back nine at Augusta. He was leading the Masters by one shot. The air was getting thin. And, no matter how good the lie looked, his ball was on pine straw. And there was a giant tree in front of him and another tree not too far to the left. And there was water in front of the green. And it was 187 yards to carry over the water. And ...
Mickelson could have laid up, of course. That was the percentage play, or at least the television announcer percentage play. Television announcers love lay-ups when things are looking tricky. If Mickelson had laid up, well, the television announcers would have sung his praises, talked about how smart a decision it was, how mature a decision it was, how the right way to win the Masters is to smother those gambling instincts and make the percentage play, and it's definitely the percentage play to lay up from 209 yards out when your ball is on pine needles and there's a gigantic tree in front you.
Then again, like Fast Eddie Felson said in The Hustler: “Percentage players die broke too.”
Phil Mickelson decided to go for it. He is 39 years old, fast approaching 40. He has won major championships, and he has lost major championships, and over the years he has learned to pick the moment. This was his moment. This was his time to win the Masters. This was the time to hit the shot. He had to go, right? He's Phil Mickelson. It's in his nature.
People have always talked about how many more tournaments Mickelson might have won had he just pulled back a little, played things a little safer. People point to Winged Foot in 2006. On the last hole of the U.S. Open, Mickelson needed a par to win. He hit his driver because he can't help himself, and he hit his second shot into a tree because he saw an opening, and he double bogeyed the hole and lost the U.S. Open. He confirmed the general consensus afterward when he said, “I am such an idiot.”
But would he really have won more if he played it safe? Is it ever really that simple? After all that work, all that practice, could Phil Mickelson really win by ignoring the openings he saw? Could he really win by smothering his talents? Could he really win by being less like himself?
This is Mickelson. Sure, he always could play smarter. Of course, he always could pull back just a little. But the beautiful thing about golf is that, in the end, it's all about what you have to give. This is what Phil Mickelson has to give. He saw the opening, he saw the flagstick, and he had to hit the shot. He set up with 6-iron and steadied himself, then hit the shot just to the left of the tree and watched it fly right at the flag, watched it clear the creek, watched it settle three feet from the hole. And then, he listened happily to the roar that sounded like it would never quiet.
“It's really one of the few shots that only Phil could pull off,” his playing partner and main foil on Sunday Lee Westwood would say.
Mickelson missed the eagle putt, which does take a little away from the success of the shot. But in the end, it wasn't the success of the shot that mattered. It was the power. Westwood was steady on Sunday (“Percentage players die broke too”), Anthony Kim blazed up the back nine, and Tiger Woods had a crazy day of brilliance and hideousness. But nobody was going to beat Phil Mickelson, not on this day, not after he hit that shot.
He dropped the birdie on 13. He made two more birdies in the last six holes. He won the Masters by three shots. And as he walked off the 18th green, he saw his wife Amy. Phil was not sure that Amy would make it to the tournament. She has been battling breast cancer, and the medicines make her feel tired and weak. She was there. They hugged for a long time. When it ended, everyone wanted Mickelson to talk about the shot at 13, a shot that will hang in the gallery of great moments at the Masters. But the truth is, he didn't really have a lot to say about it. He saw the opening. He trusted his talent. He made the shot. That's golf.
“I kept saying that if I trust my swing, I'll pull it off,” is how he explained it."
The analogy to life is so obvious ~ if you trust yourself, your talent and see the opening, by all means go for it and say YES to yourself . The fact that you said YES to yourself is the real victory regardless of the outcome.
It reminds me of a Jack London quote for London was a man who also saw the opening and went for it ~ " I would rather be a blazing comet, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper purpose of man is to live, not to exist ~ I shall not waste my years trying to prolong them ~ I shall use my time."
Amen, brother !
Allen L Roland
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Allen L Roland is a practicing psychotherapist, author and lecturer who also shares a daily political and social commentary on his weblog and website allenroland.com He also guest hosts a monthly national radio show TRUTHTALK on www.conscioustalk.net
Freelance Alternative Press Online columnist and psychotherapist Allen L Roland is also available for comments, interviews, speaking engagements and private consultations ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
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