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Friday, March 12, 2010

Lessons from Basketball

For those of you who don't pay any attention to basketball, welcome to March Madness! This is the time when the individual conferences have playoffs to determine who the best teams are, then the 64 teams that are ranked the best overall go to the NCAA Playoffs. Here in North Carolina, about 30 minutes away in Greensboro, the ACC Tournament began Thursday. I live just outside Winston-Salem, home of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who got slaughtered on the first day of the tourney. More than a few big name golfers, like Arnold Palmer and the Haas family, are probably in mourning with me.

I don't really get too interested in basketball until this time of year. Teams may play for rankings all season, but they only need to get hot for four days to take down a conference title. And unless they were absolutely horrible all season, a good showing will probably get them to "the big dance," as the NCAA is lovingly known.

Watching the ACC today -- and listening to the other conference updates -- reminded me how much we golfers can learn from basketball. Upsets -- where lower-ranked teams beat higher-ranked teams -- were the name of the game Thursday. One that really stood out to me was the University of Virginia (UVA) upset of Boston College (BC). While their rankings weren't so different -- BC was #8, UVA #9 -- UVA was a huge underdog. Not only had they lost 9 straight games coming into the tournament, but they had lost two of their star players -- one to medical and family problems, the other to academic problems.

To make a long story short, BC led by 6 points early on, then UVA went on a 17-2 tear and ended up winning by 6. The commentators said it was the best game the team had played for a long time... and they didn't even have their stars! They'll have to face #1 Duke Friday, but they'll sleep good tonight.

So how did they do it? A few observations:
  1. They accepted their limitations. Their stars were gone, so the other guys just did what they could. (Did it pretty well, too!)
  2. They stayed patient. They got behind early, but they didn't panic.
  3. They took advantage of the breaks. When BC stumbled, UVA pounced. For those of you who don't watch basketball, let me just say that scoring 17 points while holding your opponent to 2 points means you dominated a large portion of the game... at least, it does in college basketball.
  4. Finally, they didn't give up. It looked like everything was against them, and it was. But it's amazing how drastically things can turn around if you just hang in there!
Golf isn't that much different. Listen to a champion like Jack Nicklaus, and you'll hear him talk about playing percentage shots; that's just another way of accepting your limitations and playing to your strengths.

Rory McIlroy spent some time talking to Jack recently, and asked him what his mindset was when he won so much. He was surprised when Jack told him that he tended to just play his game and wait for the other players to blow up! Sounds like patience to me.

If you make a great shot or get a great break, you need to take advantage of it. Too often, we golfers get so elated that we lose focus and don't capitalize on our good fortune.

And finally, golf really is a lot like life... as a general rule, victory goes to the man or woman who's still standing when all the hard stuff is over.

When you think about it like that, you can understand why Fred Couples wanted Michael Jordan in the U.S. locker room at the Presidents Cup. Winning is pretty much the same all over, no matter what your walk of life. We would all do well to learn from the winners, and apply the lessons to our own lives.

And with that said, I'm heading back to the TV, to watch some more of the playoffs. I wonder if there's another upset in the making?


  1. ah - another occassion when the ACC reflects life. :-)

    Go Jackets !

  2. I'm pulling for Duke since Wake went out, but I did hear the ESPN guys say that GT would probably make the NCAAs...

    And what's with this "reflects life" stuff? I know some people who'll tell you the ACC IS life!!!

  3. oh great - the ESPN guys making that prediction ? We'll be lucky to get into the state high school tournament now. (lol)

    yes - but the rest of the world has to catch up to the ACC. :-)