Pain is Temporary: On Mental Toughness and Focus

There is a story in today’s Washington Post that beautifully illuminates the role that can be played by mental discipline and focus. If it’s important to you to work or play at the highest levels, there will be times when it is necessary to keep moving through a tough stretch.

Here are the basics of the story…

Bill Hurley III just won the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at the Congressional Country Club, yesterday. This wasn’t just any old golf win. This was a story of composure and finesse under pressure throughout stresses that are much bigger than the game of golf.

Bill Hurley just won his first major golf tournament. He’s not a big name in golf. By appearances, he should have been elated at the victory. He should have been jumping for joy. But his story goes much farther…

He’s a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer who has been recognized at least twice for his ability to drive a 10,000 ton ship under challenging circumstances. He has also just gone through some major family stress. His father, a former police officer, had gone missing for nine days, last July. Hurley had done a press conference prior to the tournament to help get the word out to his father to please come home in case there was a chance his dad checked out the golf websites and happened to see the message. They made contact, but a few weeks later his father was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This is a story about enduring a sadness that has never left the family throughout the last year as they try to understand an event that seemed so out of character for who they knew their father and grandfather to be.

Yesterday, on a golf course in Bethesda, Maryland, Bill Hurley III lived his values as a mentally disciplined, highly focused professional who is capable of staying on his game throughout a period of withering diversity.

He was partnered for that round with Ernie Els, a top player who is well regarded in the sport. It may have helped that Els is a class act who was encouraging and supportive throughout the day, but something tells me Hurley was rising to the occasion no matter how the game would have been played that day. Hurley also beat out Vijay Singh for the day, defeating another top name.

I looked it up. Ernie Els is ranked 238th in the world. Vijay Singh? Vijay lands at 119th. Bill Hurley…? His win yesterday moved him up in the rankings from 607th to 169th. Hurley credits his experiences as a Navy Officer with having helped him develop the mental toughness and focus that carried him through this period of his life and, ultimately, this victory on the golf course.

My bottom line on this story: There were literally hundreds of golfers on the PGA tour (at least 606 of them) who were ranked better than Bill Hurley III going into this tournament. There were at least a couple of guys there who were widely recognized “household names” in golf who didn’t play as well as Hurley, and many top names who didn’t show up to play that day. But the guy who won showed up with everything he had and kept his head in the game, regardless of whatever thoughts may have been chirping around in the back of his mind.

Well played, sir. I offer my condolences on your family’s loss; my congratulations on this win, and may there be many more to follow. May the pain of your family’s loss be temporary. May your pride in this accomplishment last forever…

(For the full article on Hurley’s win: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/golf/hurley-wins-quicken-loans-national-the-way-only-an-officer-and-a-gentleman-can/2016/06/26/d4d2dcae-3bae-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html#comments )

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