Tag Archives: golf

Mastering Ourselves

Another major championship in golf, another screed about a business lesson learned from watching that championship transpire. Sergio Garcia, a Spanish golfer with a nearly 20-year history of frustration and failure in major championships, won The Masters yesterday. What’s surprising about the win is that it took him so long. He’s won 21 times around the world and has been a fearsome force on European Ryder Cup teams for a long time.

2011 Masters Tournament

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His skill was never in doubt, and yet five years ago at this very tournament, he stated that he didn’t have what it takes to win major championships. What happened and what can we learn and apply to our own endeavors?

Major championship golf is often described as “an examination,” testing both one’s game and one’s character. Sergio has always had the game but what he lacked was the character to deal with the adversity one faces along the way in any major. That’s why he gave exactly the right answer when he was asked yesterday what he liked best about how he won: “the demonstration of character.” Like every champion, he hit some awful shots. This time, however, he stayed calm, stayed positive, made a plan, and let life go on.

The lessons for any of us are clear. Skill and competence can take us a long way but to break through to another level we need the right attitude. We need to develop that maturity and character to deal with setbacks, both self-imposed (hitting a bad shot) and external (a competitor hits a great shot). Control what we can, deal with mistakes (we all make them), and remember that someone else doing well doesn’t mean that you’re doing badly. It might just mean that you have to change your plan and do better to get ahead.

Sorry if I’m becoming predictable in writing about golf after a big tournament, but what Sergio’s win said to me about all of us and business thinking was something I felt I had to share. He had already mastered the game years ago; yesterday he mastered himself. You agree?

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The King Is Dead

It would be impossible for me to let the passing of Arnold Palmer go by without comment. This isn’t another golf screed. It’s some thinking on a great businessman who used golf as a jumping off point to demonstrate some behaviors all of us ought to try to emulate as we go through our business lives.

English: Arnold Palmer, taken by Hospital staf...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arnold Palmer passed last night at 87. A lot of what you need to know about him was captured in something Time Magazine wrote in 1962:

“When God created Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer,” it wrote, “He turned to Nicklaus and said, ‘You will be the greatest the game has ever seen.’ Then He turned to Palmer, adding, ‘But they will love you more.’ ”

Palmer’s achievements on the course were substantial. He won 62 times on the PGA Tour and those wins included 7 major championships. He did so with an “everyman” swagger, a swing that was uniquely his (and was far from classic), and an attitude of going for broke on every shot. But it was off the course where Mr. Palmer’s lessons for all of us begin.

He considered golf a personification of basic life principles. As he wrote:

“Golf resembles life in so many ways. More than any game on earth, golf depends on simple, timeless principles of courtesy and respect.”

He was legendary for taking time to sign autographs for fans. Each of those signatures was legible because he felt that he should show respect to those who asked for one. You won’t find a picture of him shaking hands where he isn’t looking the other person in the eye. In short, he was beloved because he reciprocated that love.

He was able to turn all that love into a business empire. It’s often said that Mr. Palmer didn’t invent sports marketing but that he perfected it. Endorsement deals with Pennzoil, Arizona Beverages, drug companies, and dozens of others, along with his golf course design business generated a lot of money. But he gave back, and his charity work was an important part of who he was. He also mentored younger golfers and wrote a note every week to whomever won on the Tour. He also answered all of his fan mail. In short, he was among the best on the course and unequalled off the course.

What can you learn from him? First, performance counts. The basic product needs to be among the best to make all the other activities important. Second, show respect for your customers and reciprocate their affection. We talk a lot about engagement, and Mr. Palmer engaged the fans, speaking to them directly and not through press conferences. Third, never let anything you do potentially harm your brand. If you lend your brand to another via licensing or joint venture, be sure that the end result enhances what you do and can’t possibly denigrate your good work to that point.

I know of very few people in the sports business who are universally beloved. Mr. Palmer was at the top of that very short list. Rest easy, sir, and thank you for a lifetime of excellence.

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Make Up Your Mind

At the risk of compelling you to sound like Ronald Reagan (“There you go again”), I’m going to weigh in on a lesson learned from yesterday’s US Open Golf Championship. I promise not to get into a discussion of the rules of golf!

There was a moment when Dustin Johnson, who was leading the tournament, had his golf ball move a tiny bit while he was preparing to putt. He notified the rules official about what had happened and the official told him that since ball moved without Johnson doing anything to cause it, there would be no penalty. At some point, other US Golf Association officials notified the on course officials that they were going to review video of the indecent and that Johnson might be facing a one stroke penalty. What ensued was chaos, and is instructive for any of us in business.

Put yourself in the position of the golfers. At the time, there were several competitors within several strokes of one another. The on-course scoreboards might no longer be accurate and every walking official had been notified that Johnson’s score might be one shot lower than the scoreboards were reporting. Do the golfers play more aggressively? More conservatively? The point is that there was uncertainty and that uncertainty might not be resolved until after the round was over when more officials could chat with Johnson.

That’s the business lesson. Putting aside the complexity of the rules, the USGA should have made a decision immediately. No golfer can compete without knowing how they stand and neither can the folks who work in your business. I’ve worked in organizations where there were rumors of layoffs and/or budget cuts. It was paralyzing. Employees were focused on their jobs and not on their work. Partners were worried about both with whom they’d be dealing and if the business could live up to commitments it had made. I’ve found people can deal with almost anything except not knowing.

There is a corollary lesson here. If the scoreboards aren’t accurate, the golfers don’t know how they stand nor how they should operate going forward. If your data is incomplete or possibly inaccurate, neither do you. We need to make decisions and we need to have accurate, complete information as we do so.  Lesson learned?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

A Lesson On Sorry

You have probably heard of The Ryder Cup even if you’re not a golfer.  The women’s version of that competition is called The Solheim Cup and it was contested over the weekend.  During the run of play, an incident occurred between one of the European golfers and an American.  I’ll explain it in a second (with minimal golf jargon – you’re welcome) but it’s what has happened afterwards that’s instructive to all of us in business.

Solheim Cup

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cup competitions are match play.  The total score you shoot is immaterial; you just need to have a better score than the person you’re playing on any particular hole to win that hole.  Most holes won wins the match.  Unlike the tournaments you’re used to seeing on TV, a golfer doesn’t have to putt out – finish the hole – if their opponent concedes that the next putt will be made.  Most short (2 feet and under) putts are conceded since at this level, golfers rarely miss anything that short.

What happened was that an American missed a long putt and had an 18-inch putt coming back.  The Europeans walked away from the hole and the green, so the American assumed they had conceded the putt and picked up the ball.  At that point, one of the very experienced European golfers informed her that they had not conceded the putt and the US just lost the hole at a critical point in the match.  Everyone was stunned at this bit of gamesmanship.  While she was correct with the rules of the game (you can’t assume the concession and just pick up your ball), it is way out of line with the spirit of these competitions and how the game is played.

I’m sorry for that long introduction, but it’s what has happened since that’s instructive.  In two words: she apologized.  You can read her heartfelt apology here, and it is a model for how any business or businessperson should act when they have screwed up.  It shows the difference between “I’m sorry” and the far too common “I’m sorry but…” or “I’m sorry if I offended anyone”.

This is how she begins:

I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition. I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself! I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.

She goes on to acknowledge each of the offended parties and to ask for forgiveness, promising to earn back each party’s faith and trust.  The next time I need to say I’m sorry for something, this will be my model.  You?

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As I was reading the sports section with my breakfast this morning, a couple of articles caught my attention. How they were written and how the topics were covered popped a business thought into my head and I’d like to share it.

If you’ve ever read the screed before, it’s no secret to you that I am sort of obsessed with golf. Naturally, I read the reports of the weekend’s events. The men’s tour was near Washington, DC., and the man winning the tournament was a bit of a surprise. He was a first-time winner, has an interesting back story, and fought off some of the best players on the Tour for the win. 80% of the article, however, had nothing to do with him. It was all about Tiger Woods, currently ranked #266 in the world, and a blow-by-blow of his rounds. We got none of that about the winner. I get it: Tiger’s performance, or lack thereof of late, is always THE story in golf. More about this in a second.

On the women’s side, the Women’s British Open was won by Inbee Park, who completed the career grand slam (winning every major at least once) at the ripe old age of 27. It has only been done a handful of times previously. The story received all of maybe a hundred words.

The article about the men’s tour was half a page, and the focus was not on the real news. After all, many other players finished ahead of Tiger or scored as well. The biggest golf news of the weekend was that one woman, who has captured six of the last fourteen majors the women have played, won again. My point isn’t that the women aren’t getting any respect either.

The business point is that we must always remember that when we get news and information from any source, it is generally filtered to reflect someone’s point of view. The editors decided Tiger’s ok weekend is more interesting than a first-time win or a huge achievement by a woman. You may be getting weekly reports of sales, opportunities, personnel, etc. that bury the real story.  It’s incumbent on us as businesspeople to ask questions about everything we read.  Is this research biased?  What’s the self-interest of someone who shares some news?  What isn’t in a report I’m reading?

The information we get is only as good as the editor chooses to make it.  Giving a ton of golf coverage to a guy who finished in a tie for 18th may distract you from the real story.  In business, our job is to find those stories and edit them into the narrative.  Agreed?

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A Neutral Grip

You can tell it’s a Monday because he’s writing about golf once more.  Well, I’m happy.  It’s finally golf weather here in the NY area – if you don’t mind starting off when the temperatures are around 40 degrees, that is. I spent the last couple of days trying to shake off the winter rust. One thing to which I paid particular attention was probably the most under-appreciated – but most critical – part of the golf swing: the grip.

Every golf instructor begins working with you by asking to see your grip. How you hold the club can trigger many issues that even a perfect swing can’t fix since it affects everything in the swing. The interesting thing is that there is no one right approach although there are some very important basics that all good grips have in common. No, I’m not going to spend the next hundred words teaching you about golf grips since this is a business blog. However, there is a business point to be made.

All good grips return the club face to a neutral position at impact regardless of how the club is manipulated during the swing. Your approach to your strategic thinking needs to be the same. Regardless of how the data or discussions swing your thinking, when you reach the time to take decisions – the point of impact – you need to be in as neutral a position as possible to avoid wayward shots.  Interpret the data with as few prejudices as possible.  Maybe the numbers show your pet project isn’t producing.  As Sonny Corleone said, it’s just business, not personal.  Keep your grip – and your attitude – neutral.

Neutral thinking draws out alternative solutions to problems or opportunities.  It keeps negative thinking at bay and doesn’t let the excitement of the moment when something goes right cloud your longer term thinking.  Just as a neutral grip tends to keep the golf ball from going off-line, a neutral approach to business thinking can keep us heading toward the goal.  Clear?

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The Same But Different

At the risk of alienating a few of you who are sick of golf-related posts, I want to tell you about a tournament in which I participated over the last three days. It inspired some business thinking as I reflected on it so I feel it appropriate to share with you. I guess I’ll see the rest of you tomorrow!

Golf Anyone?

(Photo credit: Amber B McN)

The tournament was one in which I was paired with another club member for three days. Each day we played golf but the format varied by round.  The first round was what’s known as a scramble – each player on the team hits, we pick the better shot, and both hit the next shot from there.  Rinse, repeat for 18 holes.  It’s a format that encourages thoughtful, aggressive play.  One partner hits a safe shot, the other can try something more difficult since there is no penalty for failure.

The next day was best ball.  Each partner plays their own ball, handicap strokes are deducted, and the better net score is written down for each hole.  This is basic golf.  While there is some strategy, it’s not much different from the regular game one plays all the time.

Finally, there was alternate shot.  In this format, both players tee off, the best drive is selected, and then the player that didn’t hit the chosen drive hits the next shot.  Players alternate shots from there until the ball is holed.  It is a tremendously difficult format in many ways, the biggest of which is that a bad shot forces your partner to fix your mistake.  There is a fair amount of strategic thinking if you hit two good drives.  Who should hit onto the green?   Who do we want putting?  Weak players are exposed and better players often feel helpless since they can’t display their skill while trying to recover from a partner’s miss.

The similarities with business are what struck me this morning.  The rules and conditions are ever-changing even while the basic game remains the same.  One must adapt or die.  You have to build your team so that you can play under any condition.   Teams that had done well in the first two formats posted horrific scores yesterday because one player was very good while the other was pretty bad.  Attention to the strategy appropriate for the situation is always critical in golf and more so given the changes to the rules each day.   Finally, one bad hole doesn’t kill your team nor does one bad day or quarter in business.  Maintaining a good positive attitude with the big picture in mind can deliver a trophy; staying mad about the bad hole (or quarter!) can keep the negative results coming.

We won our group (by a stroke!), mostly on the basis of delivering solid results each day.  That’s not a bad thing for any business to do.  Wouldn’t you agree?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On