by: Andy Fish, PGA Professional
The summer before my freshman year in high school I was playing golf with a couple buddies. On the third hole, I chunked a chip and smashed my club into the dry July ground. I looked down and saw the head of my sand wedge laying on the ground. I felt sick. A few months before, my family gave me this set of clubs for my birthday.
We were living with my grandparents, my mothers parents, since my Mom and Dad split up the previous Fall. Mom was on the couch of our small upstairs apartment. I sat down next to her and told her what happened. She paused for a moment, then told me she thought this was a great lesson in self control. The sand wedge would not be fixed. I tried to explain that the sand wedge was a very important club, specialized to the point of only being less important than the Putter and Driver. I wanted to find a way out of this mess, but my hormonal adolescence was giving way to a sliver of maturity and I accepted that this was my problem.
Over the next few weeks I practiced with every club in my bag, trying to cover the gap in my set. I worked on a bump and run with a seven iron which developed into a decent shot around the green. It worked well from the light ruff, fairway and collar. I opened my pitching wedge to hit higher softer shots. I was encouraged with my progress and my guilt was quickly replaced with a drive to conquer this self-induced blockade. There was only one problem and it was a big one, the sand.
Ian Woosnam won 52 professional golf tournaments including the 1991 Masters. As a boy in England, he loved golf, but lived on a farm that was too far away from a golf course for him to go every day. So, he practiced on the farm between his chores with an old 4 iron. The farm was covered with thick grass and Ian would hit thousands of shots out of it. He explained in many interviews, that over his whole career, rough never bothered him. Sometimes struggle is a gift.
I hit hundreds of balls out of the bunker trying to figure out how to get out effectively and consistently with the tools I had. The pitching wedge was good with an open face, but still flew too far. Tilting my body as if I was hitting downhill helped some, but I still needed something better. I was exhausted and running out of time. I reserved myself to defeat and planned my presentation to Mom. Hoping we could call this learning moment a success and get my sand wedge fixed. I was sure that this would come at a cost. The thought of this hurt me more than I realized. It wasn’t just the guilt of what I did, kids do stupid things. It wasn’t crawling back to my family and admitting that I couldn’t do it. It was a new feeling, the feeling of giving up on myself and it was suffocating. I was tired and wanted to cry. I was angry, but realized that acting out with a club in my hand is what got me here in the first place.
I opened up the pitching wedge to the point you could set a glass of water on the face and lowered my hands a foot closer to the sand (I think I saw Seve Balestreros do this one time) Then, I swung the club around me like a hula hoop, the head of the club never getting above my belt. I swung with angry intent. The ball lifted quickly straight up in the air and rose high above the green and landed a couple feet from the pin. The ball stopped right where it landed. I tried it again and the same beautiful result. I tried a 9 iron and the same result. Over the next hour I was able to hit the shot consistently with every iron in my bag, the only adjustment was squatting closer to the sand as the clubs became longer.
Life is full of problems. Some of them are self-induced and some are totally out of your control. How you deal with these problems, how you decide to struggle, is absolutely in your control. Choose the struggle you want and be open to enjoying your growth. Problems make you grow, pain makes you stronger and many great moments in life are on the other side of a struggle.