|Me and my dad, Gene Sutherland in 1983|
Giving your best sounds very simplistic, but I knew as a teenager what that demanded. If I had a bad day at basketball or golf, he would ask me one question. "Did you give your best?" He was a man of few words and when he asked this he would look me dead in the eyes. No matter how bad my day was, if I looked him in the eyes and said, "yes" he would accept it and smile at me and say "that's all you can do."
That quick exchange might signal an easy give and take, but it was anything but easy. In fact, if I had let my temper get in the way on the golf course or if I dogged it at basketball, I couldn't say yes. It was hard to lie to my dad. He seemed to know the truth, so lying was going to lead to disappointing him. I learned early that it was better to be truthful and talk through my actions or inaction than to lie and disappoint him.
The simplicity of his question is often what's missing from young player's games. The importance of scores, rankings and wins often makes acceptance hard to find. Young players focus on the bottom line to the point that they often repeat their mistakes over and over, because they don't learn to give their best and accept that it was enough on any given day. If you are a basketball player and you have a rough day, you might have teammates who get hot or someone who helps on defense when you get beat. In golf, your rough days are simply rough days. Your bad shots have to be chased down and played. Your scores have to be posted. No one is around to bail you out. It is probably why golf was my favorite sport of the many that I played growing up. The sense of accomplishment after a good day is unmatched in any other sport.
Back to my dad's question. What if you asked yourself that question when you played? If you did, what would lead to a yes or no? For me as a young player, it was about my attitude. Did I get disgusted with my scoring and start messing around? Did I get angry and give up on myself a little bit? Did I focus on what I could do with each shot? These were the questions I learned to ask myself before I answered him. These were my measures of whether or not I gave my best. It never had a thing to do with the physical shots I hit, but always with how I reacted to the shots. His question helped me accept rough days and to understand what lead to good days.
My dad was a basketball coach and what he effectively did with that one question was hand me the ball. He was never the judge of my effort or score. He always allowed me to be that judge. He always accepted my answer, too, whether or not he believed it. His disbelief showed and that was the disappointment I mentioned earlier. That was harder for me to face than shooting 80.
This blog post might be more for the parents who read my blogs than for the players, but I think either would benefit from the same mentality. Lots of players are eaten up with poor results while they are playing the game. It is impossible to give your best with that mindset. A focus on results changes your game plan, your confidence, your touch and your reactions. You can hear people talk about process all you want, but if a double bogie sends you into a tailspin, you aren't thinking about your process out there and you aren't giving your best to the next shot or the day.
What if we all just took a deep breath and asked each other, "Hey, did you give your best there?" Then, look that person in the eye and demand an honest answer. Golf is a tough game and there will be many days when your best will fall short of good scores, wins or even your expectations, but by not giving your best, you will never know what you could get done. Allow your son or daughter to be accountable for his or her best. Players, give your best and accept the outcomes. Tomorrow, you will have another chance to give it.
The last paragraph I'm writing is for those players who gave me their best as their coach and I didn't accept it. I was caught up in results too. I'm sorry for not recognizing your sincerity, your effort or your ability to do all you could with what you had. I promise I will do better at doing my best as a coach and accept your answers just as my dad accepted mine. By allowing my players to be completely accountable without question, they can actually understand the acceptance needed to do it. Off we go into our first competition. I'm going to ask my team to do their best.
Link to live scoring at the University of Tennessee's Mercedes Benz Invitational