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Life's great teachers - golf and road kill

There were four of us in the car, the sun was shining, hot air balloons had been launched and were colourful against the pure blue sky. We would have time for coffee, chat and idleness before our early morning tee-off in paradise. Or the driving range and putting green for an hour. There were two schools of thought. The pair in the front said it was all about setting goals and targets. That was the way that you got where you wanted to be, whether it was your golf score, or some other less important aspect of life. They were the coffee couple.

Those in the back seat took a more reflective view on life. They were heading for the driving range and putting green. While you needed to know what you wanted to achieve, it was all about the process and preparation to maximise your chances of achieving what you wanted in life. As we debated, a squirrel ran across the road and the car in front half heartedly tried to miss him but the little creature became road kill as we watched. So what let him down? The target of getting across the road, or the process that he undertook to achieve it? The metaphor was not lost on any of the four philosophers who were destined to fail to achieve their golf targets that day because their processes were going to let them down and the targets they had set were unrealistic. But such is the addiction of golf, and we all keep coming back.

A golf handicap is a curious badge. The number represents the pinnacle of your achievement. Your handicap is set by your best golf, which, by definition, you rarely achieve. Golfers step on the first tee fondly believing they will play to that number, that is, that they will play their best.

Later, they retire to the 19th with tales of what could have been, talk about what prevented them realising their full potential that day, and mostly are being self-centred and thinking about their own score.

To play to your handicap on the golf course, pretty much everything has to go right for you on that day. To do better, you have to play out of your skin. Your handicap will then be adjusted to reflect your new 'best' and you are destined to return to the treadmill of failure. But return we all do.

Some friends of mine were at one of those motivational life-improvement sessions a while back. One of the participants fancied himself as a cut above the rest. Pretty much every avenue of discussion was dismissed by this creature, who seemed to manage to combine being a know-all with being an emotional failure. The point that stayed in my friend's mind was this superior being's attitude to golf. It was dismissed with the comment that he would take it up when he was about 90.

It is a pity he hasn't already taken it up. He would have learned humility, and tasted success in bite-sized chunks. But no one would want to play with him.

Sunday Independent