Earlier this month I had the opportunity to hit the links with a group of friends. I was paired with a young man whose star continues to rise in the world of professional golf. I’ve been golfing since I was a kid when my dad took me out on the links as his caddie, ball retriever, snack gopher et al. I enjoy walking the fairways (mostly in the out-of-bounds) and smacking that little white ball onto the lush greens all across the State of Utah. But even after spending countless years learning the game, in the span of just three hours, Gipper Finau helped me improve my game as well as my outlook on life. Funny thing is, I don’t think he even realized the profound affect he had on my game and perspective.
Here’s the setup: We’re at The Ranches Golf Club in Eagle Mountain. On the Number 1 (black) tee Gipper steps up and pounds a line drive ball down the fairway that rolls to a stop just a few yards from the green. It’s as perfect a shot as I’ve seen in person in my life.
Next up, me. I step up and connect cleanly. I hear that crisp ping that tells me I’ve hit a solid shot. Before looking up I wonder if today is going to be one of those days when the golf gods have commissioned my clubs for an above average day. But when I look up I realize that someone in that nice home to the right of the fairway with the nice green lawn and the gnome smiling in the flower beds is going to get a rude wake-up call courtesy of an errant white ball on their roof. I realize, the golf god’s are not with me, but they’re certainly with Gipper.
For the next two holes Gipper suffers through my horrific slice until he bails me out with this pearl of wisdom, “It’s all in your hands.”
What? This guy eats, sleeps and lives golf. He has played alongside some of today’s most talented young golfers (including his brother Tony), and in tournaments around the world and his only bit of advice to me is “It’s all in your hands?” I’m flabbergasted at first until Gipper takes a moment to break it down.
“You have enough strength in your wrists, Polynesians are just born with great hands and we play enough different sports that our wrists are very powerful.”
Okay, that makes sense but what else?
“So make sure that you identify your target, line up accordingly, control your backswing and power through as usual, but turn your wrist just slightly on impact and you’ll correct that slice.”
So I give it a shot. The first attempt was a bit wild but I could actually see the ball ‘wanting’ to go straighter. On my next shot off the tee I do it again, concentrating on the mechanics and controlling my backswing a bit more than my last shot. This time, it shoots straight down the fairway. I’m beaming now and so is my young instructor.
“See, it’s all in your hands,’ Gipper repeats as we head towards the green. ‘In golf there is always a way to tweak things just slightly to fine tune your game. It may seem insignificant at the time, but when you find it and fix it, it could the difference between winning a hole and winning an entire tournament.”
And in that final phrase, Gipper Finau taught me a little bit about life and the odd parallel it has with the game of golf.
Sometimes we feel like we’re just cruising along on our run towards fulfilling a goal or raising a family and we are derailed and go slightly off course. It becomes critical at that point to identify the weaknesses in our game and tweak it just slightly to get back on track. On the golf course all I had to do was control my backswing and turn my wrists just slightly to stay in the fairway. In life it could be taking the extra time to sit down and talk with your spouse or significant other. It might be complimenting your child on how well they did in school or in a game or at a recital that makes the difference. These minor tweaks in your relationships with the people in your circle of influence could make a major difference in your life and theirs.
When dealing with a minor setback or a major dilemma, the advice Gipper gave me is as relevant in golf as it is in life: ‘It’s in our hands’ – the way that we address the problem is all in our hands and only we are capable of making the impact that puts us closer or veers us farther off course.