I was standing on the 17th green and my mind was wondering all over the place.

Why are you playing so poorly?
Why are you feeling nervous?
What are you scared of?
This guy should have beaten you by now but he doesn’t want to win…

It was my first time in the finals of the state championships. I had qualified the week before, somewhat unexpectedly when I played the back nine in 4 under. It was a nice achievement, but I was feeling a little out of place and not sure how to approach things.

My opponent was more experienced and had won quite a bit around town. But despite feeling overwhelemed, I was still in the match. I was only one down and sitting pretty on the 17th, on in regulation and my opponent long and in the trees.

Then it hit me. A moment of inspiration. Here’s my recollection of the conversation I had with myself while my oponent attempted to get his ball onto the green.

What are you wrried about? You’ve been nervous all day and you’re still standing. Stop being so bloody stupid and get on with it. You’ve got nothing to lose here – just play the game.

I made a commitment to myself that if I got through this match I’d play more freely in the afternoon. I was pumped and felt a lot better. I watch my opponent chip way past the hole but make the long putt for par. What looked like an easy win had now gotten tougher. I lost my focus.

My first putt was timid. Didn’t get close to the hole and I missed the second. I was annoyed that I didn’t get to keep playing but it was a valuable lesson.

Don’t start playing freely on the next hole, tomorrow or next week. Start playing freely NOW. Start. All other options are too late.

I should have relaxed and hit the first putt close (and maybe in) and walked to the next hole and taken my chances. As it was, I gifted the guy the match and I was mad at myself. But I learned something and made an insightful breakthrough. That moment of inspiration was a turning point and helped get me moving to the next level. The following year, I made it through two more rounds, losing a great match on the 36th hole.

We’re learning machines and lessons are everywhere, but they only show themselves if we’re ready and open.

P.S. When I finished writing I realised that I had touched on this story once before. After a bit of hunting around I found it here.