Yesterday, I got home in time to watch the last few holes of the St. Jude Classic. I watched and cheered when 32 year old Robert Garrigus made a clutch putt on the 16th hole to take a two shot lead. Lee Westwood made a bogey on the 17th hole to give Garrigus a three shot lead with one hole left to play.  If you haven’t heard what happened and want to read about it click on A Lesson Learned: Finish the race with the game that put you on top.

It was painful to watch. Garrigus is 32 years old and has been a pro since 1997. He was ranked 377th in the world, had never won a PGA tournament. He had never even led a PGA tournament on the final day. He had it in his grasp yesterday. He had played so very well to get the three shot lead with one hole to play. All he had to do was hit the ball safely on the 18th hole.

Instead of using his 3-wood to tee off as he had done the three previous days, Garrigus used a hybrid club and swung easy-too easy. It was not his normal swing and even a rank amateur like me could tell. He hit his tee shot directly into the water, the only place he could hit that would be a problem. He almost hit his second shot into the water. It hit a tree. By the time he got to the green, he had to sink a putt for a triple bogey, just to get into a play-off.

A Golf Channel reporter wrote: Why did Robert Garrigus lose? He wrote that Garrigus must come up with an empowering answer to the question or his subconscious will come up with a disabling one. I can’t look into his brain, but I believe Garrigus may have been focused on what he did not want to do rather than focused on what he wanted to do. The brain doesn’t process the word "not" as in do "not" hit it in the water. 

As you might note from the title to this post, one lesson to take away from this story is that playing not to lose is a big mistake. If you have worked hard to create opportunities for yourself, don’t start playing it safe and playing not to lose an opportunity. Continue along the same path that got you to potential victory. Continue to focus on what you want to do rather than what you do not want to do.

There is a second lesson in this story that will play out over the next several months. How will Robert Garrigus deal with this crushing public meltdown on the 72nd hole of the tournament? As a lawyer, you will not always be successful. If you are a trial lawyer, you will not win every case. You may even lose one that you had in your grasp to win. Fortunately, your losses or disappointments will not likely be played out before a national television audience. 

How will you respond to disappointment in your own performance. To borrow a phrase from the golf channel reporter you will either use the loss or disappointment to empower you to become a better lawyer or to disable you. In the end, the choice will be yours.