carnegie1This past Monday, I finished the third session of a twelve-session Dale Carnegie Course. You might know Carnegie as the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Although I’m not against “winning” friends and influencing people, I’m mainly taking the class as an exercise in public speaking. I hate speaking in front of groups. Hate it.

We have to make at least one two-minute presentation in front of the group every week. Sometimes, two per week. It’s good practice for my job. Public speaking skills are a useful tool in any company.

So this past Monday I discussed an experience with golf, and I thought I’d recap the discussion here. Why not?

The point of the two-minute speech was a personal or professional breakthrough. Some people discussed their faith; others discussed a career highlight. But, not me. No, my personal breakthrough was the day I broke 70.

But let me provide some background first.

I started playing golf around 10. My brother took me out to this little nine-hole goat track called Green Valley Greens in my hometown of Cartersville, Georgia. I made a 14 on my first hole, an undulating wide-open 300 yard par 4.

After countless wormburners, whiffs, and wayward shots, I remember the first time I made solid contact. The ragged Titleist gracefully flew in the air and landed 150 yards down the fairway. I was hooked.

Several years later, I made my high school team. When I was 16, my parents joined the local club and I was able to practice much more frequently. I practically lived on the course during the summer.

Fast forward about six years. I just finished my junior year on my college team—my first year of college golf. Not a very successful year, really. 7,000 yard golf courses weren’t suited well to my 250 yard drives.

After that year, our coach challenged us to play in a lot of summer tournaments—state amateurs, opens, etc—and really work on our games. As a walk on, I took that to heart. So the next summer, I played golf and worked nonstop. That was my life.

I finally broke 70 on the final day of my club championship. Disclaimer here: club championships rarely mean much to anyone other than the players involved. I get that. But they’re still fun.

At the time, our club championship was a 54 hole event with 27 holes on Saturday and Sunday. After the first day, I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. I shot a 76-38—somewhere in that range. On Sunday, I started slow: a 39 on the back nine—my first nine holes of the 27-hole day.

When I started that final 18, my Ping Anser decided to catch fire. I reached number 8 at even par on my final round: one birdie and one bogey. But then the fun started. After birdies on 8, 9, and 10, I made a miserable bogey on the easy par 5 11th hole. Then came birdies on 12 and 13, followed by chip-in birdies on 14 and 15.

At this point, after seven birdies in eight holes, I’m within two shots of the lead. A nice little gallery is accumulating. My tee shot on the16th hole, a 170 yard par 3, is all over the flag. But it flies about 15 feet past. My birdie putt burns the lip and the hot streak ends.

Then came the nerves. After lacing my tee shot on 17 right down the heart, I leave an 8 iron about 5 feet short of my target, the ball lands at the top of a greenside bunker and slides down into the sand. I make bogey on 17 and 18. Sucky finish; I know. I shot a 68 and finished third. But I did end up getting a scholarship.

But the point of the speech—the breakthrough—was that I finally broke 70. That number haunted me forever. I probably shot 70 ten times before I finally cracked into the 60s. After that round, rounds in the 60s weren’t quite as difficult. And, believe me, they were much more frequent that summer than they are these days.

So what was your golf breakthrough?