The Best at Everything
Steffi Lin, Division 2, 9th grade #ws18e-s2d2

I’m standing on the fourteenth hole fairway of Diablo Grande Golf Course, which looks like a green checkerboard with its overlapping lawnmower marks. It’s over 90 degrees, and I can feel the sun searing my shoulders, arms, and the back of my legs. Although the course looks like smooth rolling hills, turns in the fairways make it an adversary.

The short par five is a piece of cake—a straightforward chance to get a birdie. The short distance makes it easy to reach in three shots. But a bushy, ditch-like hazard stands right in front of the green like a trap. After my first tee shot, my ball lies in a perfect position in the fairway. I take out my rangefinder and find the distance to the hole: exactly 183 yards. It is reachable, but the hazard is only two yards in front of the green. It isn’t a guarantee that I’ll make it over the ditch.

Because I’m still a ways from the edge of the fairway, I could choose to lay up and hit it short of the hazard. A 90-yard gap wedge would be enough. I can tell this is going to be a difficult decision. If I choose to go for the green, and I’m just a little short, I’ll land in the ditch. Laying up and hitting it short of the hazard would guarantee safety, but the chances of getting a birdie would be low. After I think about it for a second, I make my decision. I’ll hit my gap wedge just short of the hazard and leave myself in a good position to hit my next shot. A strategic move.

I pull my gap wedge out of my bag with my right hand. Ten feet to the right of me, Mandy stands. My golf nemesis. Wearing her white Nike visor, white FootJoy shoes, navy blue shirt with the AJGA logo, and a pair of white shorts with a black Nike belt, Mandy has her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed under the shadow of her visor. She is looking straight forward, probably thinking about her own shot. We are currently tied for the lead, and the tension in the air feels hot. Thing is, Mandy hates me. She always wants me to mess up. It’s like having an evil shadow looming over me on the golf course.

I take a couple practice swings and still see Mandy’s statue in my peripheral vision. For a moment, I second-guess myself. There is a chance that Mandy goes for the green. If that were to happen, I could end up one stroke behind. But still, the risk is too high. One stroke can still be made up, but a drop in the hazard can’t. I take a few practice swings then set up to my ball. As I swing back, my shoulder and leg muscles tighten, and then my club makes contact.

It’s solid—a good shot. I catch a glimpse of the ball as it leaves my club. As I rotate into my finish, I scan the sky looking for my ball. My heart pounds for a moment. Then, I spot it descending through the air straight down the middle. Once I slide my gap wedge back into my bag, I head over to Mandy’s ball, praying that she decides to lay up like I did. Please, Mandy. Don’t go for the green.

Already standing beside her ball, finding distances to the green and hazard, Mandy seems to have made her decision. She slides out her three-wood. My heart sinks. She is going for the green. Mandy sets up to the ball and makes a smooth swing. I hear a “pwing” sound as her club stikes the ball, and I spot it flying through the air. Go in the hazard. Go in the hazard! The ball starts falling, and it looks like it might not make it over the ditch. It could go either way. As it lands just three yards over the hazard, it makes a tiny thumping sound. It bounces its way onto the green, and finally rolls to a stop just fifteen feet away from the hole.

I should’ve taken the risk. Why didn’t I? There goes my coleading position. I can just imagine Mandy sneaking in an evil smile underneath her visor.

We tie the remaining five holes, and I end up getting second place. After the awards ceremony is over, I watch Mandy walk away with her medal feeling as if I should have been the champion. I easily could have saved a few shots. As if I’ve been punched in the heart, anger and disappointment builds inside of me.

Truth is, I didn’t go for the green because I’m afraid of failure. If I fail at golf, then I might fail at school and other things. If I fail, I won’t get into a good college. I won’t be successful, and I won’t be able to provide for myself. I’ll become homeless and lonely. I’ll sit on the sidewalk, leaning up against a building, a sign in my lap that reads, “Help.” I’ll be cold and hungry and subsisting on hot dog buns. People will look down on me as they walk past on the streets and say, “You should get a job and earn money.” I realize this is a slippery slope. Really, it isn’t the world’s expectations but my own. I want to be the best at everything, but I can’t.

Ever since that day of the tournament, I’ve recognized that my fear of failure prevents me from taking risks, which in turn doesn’t give me the chance to win. After my competition with Mandy, I recognized that sometimes it’s worth taking the risk. My fears should not stop me from having the chance to succeed. Taking risks is a part of life, and cowering away doesn’t get me anywhere. I had let my fear tell me that failure was the inevitable outcome, when in reality, anything was possible.
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