“Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a pro golfer,” said Gockenbach, who retired from a successful career as a chemical engineer to take his shot at joining the senior tour. “When I finally got to a point in my life when I could take my shot, I did. What I didn’t realize is that I learned a lot more about living life than I did about golf.”
Gockenbach chronicled his life lessons, with a side order of war stories from competing in tournament qualifiers, Senior Majors, and Q-Schools, in his book Inside, Outside and On The Ropes. In it, he ends each chapter with a lesson about life, a lesson about golf, or a combination of the two. His tips on how to play life “from the pro tees” include:
• If you don’t enter, you can’t win – I know this sounds simple, but it’s easy to be stopped by the daunting odds that face a pro every week, trying to get on the Champions Tour. For instance, after recovering from shoulder surgery in the spring, I passed on entering three qualifiers where I could have qualified with a low round, as I later did at Sarasota. But when I didn’t enter, I eliminated that opportunity. You can apply the same logic at work. Make the extra sales call at that plant you’ve driven by a dozen times. It’s the one the previous salesman said, “Don’t bother with them; they’ve never ordered a thing.” You might just show up on the day their current supplier stumbles, or the day the purchasing agent gets a memo about a new product that uses your raw material. It can’t be your day if you don’t show up.
• The greatest regrets in life are for things you didn’t do, not the things you did and did poorly – I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but in my experience, people regret stopping after only a few piano lessons a lot more than spending two years on the lessons and never becoming very good. I know it’s true for me. I quit piano lessons at age 13 after only three visits to the local teacher. I quit so early I can’t even remember her name. And I’ve regretted it every time I see someone who can play the piano competently. “No one ever lies on their deathbed and wishes they’d spent more time at the office” is true for a reason. It’s the dreams we didn’t chase that we regret, not the ones we chased and never caught. I know I’ve certainly had more people come up to me and say, “I admire you for chasing your dream,” than I’ve had say or even imply, “You’re crazy to try.”
• Every stroke counts – I know from playing in the qualifiers that one shot here or there can make the difference between qualifying and going home empty. A round of golf takes four-and-a-half hours on a good day. A good attitude and focus for each and every shot takes less than a minute each. Each of those (hopefully less than 70!) events is equally important. Life works the same way. When you’re driving a car, focus on your safe driving. Getting angry at the driver who cuts you off only makes it less likely that you’ll get there safely. You won’t change his behavior. You’ll just open yourself up for a ticket or an accident. Take the extra two seconds to learn the secretary’s name and sincerely thank her when she gets you that appointment with her boss. Give her your full attention, even if your total interaction is less than a minute long. An off-handed remark from her can score a birdie with her boss. Every interaction in life deserves a positive approach and relaxed focus. It’s a good habit to develop.