Keep firing at the pin no matter what direction your game is going

Sustained excellence.

Sudden brilliance.

And two lessons for all of us.

The news out of the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions in recent days, for those whose interest in our great game slumbers at this time of year, centered on two items:

–Phil Mickelson dropped out of the top 50 players in the world for the first time since he joined the Tour 26 years ago. That’s 1,353 weeks. He’s not part of a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team for the first time since 1994.

–Jeff Maggert holed a 123-yard shot last weekend in Phoenix to defeat Retief Goosen in a playoff, win a Champions event for the first time in four years and hand the Schwab Cup to Scott McCarron.

I found the Mickelson news particularly eventful.

Surely you know someone who has been a great golfer in seemingly forever. Every course has them. They’re the perennial contenders for the club championship. They seem invincible.

But everyone, at some point, starts fading. The drives don’t go as far. The putting stroke gets a little shaky. Maybe they lose interest a little.

Sadly, I’ve known more than a few golfers who simply stopped playing when they couldn’t score the way they were accustomed. The game was no longer fun for them.

I just don’t get it. Sure, we all want to post a good score, but as you get older you have to accept your new normal. Nothing, including my increasing inability to hit the ball the way I used to, can detract from the feeling of walking down a perfectly manicured fairway on a perfect day and sizing up a shot to a difficult green. There’s nothing like it in sports.

Even worse is the golfer who complains after every shot that his or her skills have faded. Every run into one of those? Do they really think their playing partners enjoy that?

If you ever catch yourself doing that, please stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. It’s one thing to make a joke of it. No problem. It’s quite another to turn it into four hours of whining.

The fastest way to quell that nonsense, of course, is to hit a great shot that goes in the hole. Maggert’s tournament-winner in Phoenix sums it up.

Think about it: It could happen every single time you are within range of the green. That translates to at least 50 times in every round. It could be as many as 100 if your short game is shaky.

So when it does happen – when you sink a long putt or chip one in or, miraculously, knock it in from a much longer distance – you need to properly celebrate it.

But that’s what keeps us coming back. Surely you think about it. We all do. If your game is even remotely OK, you’re trying to hit the ball in that little hole. That’s the goal. It is the hardest thing to do in sports besides hitting a baseball that’s swerving and curving at upward of 90 mph.

Basketball players are considered poor shooters if they don’t make at least 1 out of 3 attempts from 3-point range. The golf equivalent is anything outside of, say, 40 feet, but how many of those do we make? One out of a hundred? For some of us, it seems like one in a million. And yet we keep coming back.

Don’t ever lose that sense of fascination with it. Every time you step on the tee and size up a par-3, you should be visualizing the ball going in the hole. The same goes for every fairway shot where the green is reachable. It certainly applies to chip shots. And we all know how important it is to apply that technique to putting.

There’s too much good in this game to give up, no matter whether your game is fading faster than you’d like or not ascending as fast as you expected.

Celebrate the victories, especially the biggest one of all – the opportunity just to play the greatest sport ever invented.

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