Every once in a while I like to sneak off with a friend and get a round of golf in before heading to the office. I don’t have the time to do this as much as I would like, but I try to accomplish it whenever my stockpile of golf balls seems to be exceeding my storage parameters in the garage. A good round of golf always seems to relieve me of numerous balls, reducing strain in the accommodation of same back home.

During the summer, we attempt to tee off as early as possible – usually right at sunrise. We do this for a couple reasons. First, I can complete a round, shower and be in the office at a decent mid-morning time. Second, this is Florida in the summertime, and any idiot engaging in an afternoon round of golf will come off the 18th hole as a steaming pile of gelatinous goo. Nobody wants to see that, really.

Recently my friend and I tried an “Executive Course” near my home. An executive course, otherwise known as a “par 3” course, is a shorter and ostensibly easier course to navigate. For duffers like me, it just means I suck just a little less than on a standard big boy course. It also means, that the reduced suckage equals a faster round, and I can get to the office to start sucking there sooner. This particular course had just re-opened a few weeks prior, having closed during the great economic downturn (where everything sucked) back in 2008. Once a full-fledged golf course, several of its former holes are now giving birth to condominium communities, with the remainder carved up into shorter suck reducing entities.

People in those condos, I suppose, will be able to watch golfers suck faster than those on a standard course. But I sense I have digressed from my intended message….

One particular hole on this course proved especially daunting. This was a surprise, as it was literally the shortest hole I’ve ever played in my life. It was only sixty-six yards from the tee to the center of the green. The entire hole consisted of the tee box, a 10-foot-deep ravine, and a very flat green on the other side. It should have been easy-peasey.

The first indication of trouble came when my golf partner, a very skilled golfer who I suspect only plays with me for some perverted equal opportunity requirement said, “I lost 4 balls on this hole the last time I played here”. Really? Four balls on this simple, short, stupid excuse for a hole? I found it hard to believe. Then we teed up; and we had to make it across that stupid ravine.

You should understand, a 10-foot-deep ravine in Florida is normally called a lake. Why there was just a creek running through this one I do not know, but in Florida parlance, this cavern suddenly seemed like hitting across the Grand Canyon. Both of us put balls directly into the center of it. Then, courtesy of our Mulligan’s, we did it again. We eventually got across, my friend landing on the green and my ball lying somewhere near Pittsburgh. But the ravine had once again taken its toll.

So why was this short, ridiculous hole so difficult to play?

There are a couple issues that made it hard; the short distance combined with very little elevation on the green meant that a high arcing, short shot was required for decent placement. That short shot, however, could not be too short, or your ball would be lost to the muck and mire of the ravine. Hence the dilemma. This hole was definitive proof that golf is a mental game, and that damned ravine was nothing but a confidence sucking hole in the ground.

Yesterday I wrote about the difficulty of accepting change in any area of our lives. It is challenging to both accept and manage change, be it in our personal or professional lives. In many ways this hole; this bitch of a ditch, represented both change and challenge, and mentally we let it win. We could not easily transverse the challenge, and in our fear of it we succumbed to its power.

Is this lesson applicable to workers’ comp? You bet it is, and I don’t even need to whip out my trusty rubber mallet to make the anecdote fit. Many of the hurdles and challenges we see right before us are only problems because we believe them to be so. If we recognize that we have the answers and the biggest challenge we face is within ourselves and our insecurities, then sticking the green on our next attempt should be much easier.

We’ve been talking a lot about change in the workers’ compensation industry. I have been involved in some of the activities, many others are also engaged in this process. When we speak of changing industry processes, many times we speak in big, broad terms, the equivalent of game changing “Hail Mary” plays in football. We need to remember in this process, however, that while Hail Mary plays are certainly impressive, it is the consistent successful short game that ultimately results in a winning effort. 

This stupid little golf hole was a terrific representation of the short play, ground game strategy. Identify your obstacle, overcome the hazard, and gain the intended ground for this hole. Then you can proceed to move to the next challenge on the horizon. 

As we talk about change and work toward desired reforms, we may still continue to talk about what the end of the game will look like. That is fine; a clearly defined goal is necessary to make the trek successfully. However, we cannot lose sight of the short game – the details and challenges that must be overcome one at a time, and that cannot be allowed to defeat us from a mental perspective.

Workers’ compensation reform, after all, will be a very tough 18-hole course. We will need to smartly play it one hole at a time, and we may find that the shortest holes, the ones that are theoretically easiest to conquer, are the toughest ones to overcome.

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