It’s been a while since I’ve felt the heat. I’m not talking physical heat. The tan on my skin is proof that I spent two months training in the Florida sun. I’m talking about the heat of competition. Something incomparable to any other experience – a scorching flame that cannot be manufactured in practice; one that will burn your house down if there is not a solid foundation on which it stands.

Last week I was ready to clear the smoke and let the spark inside me burn for the first event of the year. When the starter announced my name on opening day, I started to feel the heat. The flutter of my heart and a slight tremble in my hands was a sure sign that my competitive nerves were back again. However, it was a different experience than I had felt before. This was jitters of excitement far more than fear.

Perhaps it was the four months away from this sensation that allowed me to experience these feelings from a third-person perspective. For the first time, I could acknowledge when my body started to feel tense and when my mind started to overthink as a result of the competitive environment. All these feelings that four months ago created anxiety, felt more like a science project. Adding water when I needed to simmer down and pouring gasoline when I needed a little fire under me. And then there are the uncontrollable variables that change the flame. For example, a little western wind blows and increases the flame size outside of your control.

That’s what happened to me on my final hole of the first round. I stood on the par-five ninth hole just 92 yards from the sucker pin. In a prime position to finish off my round on a high note. I checked my yardage book for an ideal place to land the ball on the green and glanced at my notes in the top left corner of the page. I quickly read three words written in all caps – DEAD LONG LEFT. With the wind moving right to left, I decided to start my ball just a little right of the pin and allow Mother Nature to move it closer to the hole. As I addressed the ball, the wind picked up and so did my desire to end the round with a circle on the scorecard. Milliseconds after contact, I blurted out “It’s gone.” A slight pull sent the ball sailing long left and in the most undesirable location. I ended my round with two squares instead of a circle.

Walking off 18, I felt like smoke was bowling out of my ears. For the first time in a while, golf had me burning up. It had been so long since I’d let the game get to me the way that 92-yard shot did. I sat at dinner with my mom, irritated. Two hours had elapsed since I said, “it’s gone” but the feeling was not even close to being gone. After some water and good food, I simmered down. As the flames settled and the smoke cleared, I could finally see the lesson behind the blaze.

In the winter months when times are cold and dreary, it’s the heat of a fire that keeps us warm. When our dreams seem so far away, that little spark or flame, big or small, is what keeps us moving forward. When the time is right, the spark turns into a roaring blaze and carries across the finish line. And when the fire gets out of control, that’s when we learn never to repeat the same mistake twice. That’s why you won’t find me attack a sucker pin with whipping winds ever again.

Thankfully, I learned my lesson and improved the next two rounds to finish in the top 25 for the first event of the year.