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Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

Never Concede the Stroke that Beats You

It was 1913.

A young man named Francis had just overcome a nearly insurmountable lead in a golf match. Now he had to finish his comeback.

He knew he was fighting for his future in the quarterfinals of this amateur tournament. He didn’t know that everything good that would ever happen to him depended on this moment. He had grown up in near-poverty, with a father who worked in coal mines to support his family. The bedroom window of his youth oversaw a golf club across the street, at which he could never play because his family didn’t have the means to join as members.

He was at an exam that many young people face, where they put their gifts to the test and search for the limits of their own talent. Every impressive victory that followed hinged on his next move.

All he had to do to secure his perfect comeback was to sink one last putt for a birdie on the final hole

But he missed — by less than an inch. He quickly tapped in for a par.

His opponent had two putts to secure the victory and Francis’s loss. It was over. The match. His life. His only chance at progressing in the game of golf.

Then the words of a book he studied religiously popped into his head. “Never despair,” Harry Vardon wrote in The Complete Golfer, his manual on how to play golf. Vardon was the world’s best golfer.

Francis collected himself. His life wasn’t over. Just the match. Never despair.

The first putt of his opponent landed 18 inches from the hole. Custom and sportsmanship allowed Francis to concede the 18-inch putt to his opponent, who looked up and waited for Francis to concede the putt, hole, and match. Twenty-year-old Francis was known as a great sportsman and gentleman, who respected the game more than his place in it.

But more words from Harry Vardon echoed back to him — words that he memorized trying to emulate the best in the world:

Never concede the putt that beats you.

Francis was ready to accept the loss. He knew his mistakes and he was ready to accept them. He would not despair. His life was not over.

He could accept losing — after his opponent made one final putt.

Francis would not concede the putt, the hole, the match.

Never concede the putt that beats you.

So the other player hunched over, aiming his final shot. He pulled back his club, struck the ball, and looked up, ready for victory.

But he missed.

Don’t Learn How to Lose

I can’t count the number of times I faced the same problem that Francis faced. I would come to where failure seemed imminent. It seemed unavoidable. I had a choice about what to do, but I felt like I really didn’t. The only decision that felt normal was to concede the final stroke. Accept my fate and move on. There would be another opportunity — right? It’s just this one that didn’t work out.

I don’t know where I learned this helplessness. It may have been in school. Or from the people around me as I was growing up. It may have been in sports.

It was not until years later — and not too long ago — that I realized that I had learned how to lose.

Most of us, including me, need Harry Vardon’s hundred-year-old advice now more than ever.

Never concede the putt that beats you.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

After Francis’s opponent missed the putt that Francis nearly conceded, sudden death match play started. There was no time to reflect on what happened.

For Francis’s opponent, sudden death occurred quickly. Francis won easily on the first playoff hole. Francis won again in the semifinals and then the finals of the same amateur tournament.

In 1913, Francis Ouimet became the Massachusetts State amateur champion. He remembered having a strange thought at the time: when he played as well as he did, it felt like no one in the world could beat him.

Because of his victory, Francis then played in the 1913 U.S. National Amateur Championship. His performance there inspired an invitation to play in the 1913 U.S. Open — alongside his hero and virtual mentor, Harry Vardon, the greatest golfer of a generation.

You may wonder why history remembers the name of a 20-year-old amateur golfer.

Mr. Francis Ouimet defeated the best golfers in the world in 1913 — including Harry Vardon — and won the U.S. Open. It would be the equivalent of a high school kid beating Tiger Woods at his best on the highest stage. It was unheard of in sports history. Mark Frost dubbed the match the “greatest game ever played” in his book and movie of the same name.

For many people, Francis’s victory seemed miraculous. For us, we can look at when the victory actually occurred.

It is so easy to give up when losing seems inevitable. For years, I made the easy choice. And over time, I had learned how to lose. But there are people who know how to win. And they can show us what to do.

It starts with one choice.

Never concede the stroke that beats you.

Never despair.

Learn the one lesson that has changed my life more than any other.

I only write about what I have done: no theory. Writer, Attorney, Entrepreneur, Movie Producer, and more… the ONLY 3 ways to reinvent:

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