Sharing What I Learned On the Golf Course

This is past weekend the Masters Tournament, the most prestigious golf event in America took place. It ended in a sudden death playoff. The winner at Augusta National was awarded the famous green jacket.

I’m just a hacker. My golfing history could be summed up as a continuing learning experience some which I want to share with you.

One beautiful morning I played at Tilden Park Golf Course in Berkeley. I spent the round with the newly transplanted corporate attorney. He was an experienced golfer from Ohio.

We talked business between holes. Early on, I started to play better than I had ever played before. No hooks or slices, out of control chip shots, putts going past the cup. My cart partner didn’t provide me with any advice, he played his normal game.

I finished somewhere better than last in the tournament, and won most improved score.

It matters a great deal who you play with. If you want to win, you play with people as good, but preferably better than you. This is solid advice for anyone in business. It forces you to up your game.
One guy who played in these tournaments would get on my case because of my high scores. His words weren’t always in jest; there was always some mud on the golf ball, so to speak. He was a trash talker and I learned to avoid his jabs. Avoiding negative people is a key to success.

I had no illusions about ever winning a tournament. I went out for fun and to spend time with people I wanted to get to know. My golfing objective was to do better each tournament I played in. I played against myself.

Golf is interesting that way. Everyone is scored the same way, on their handicap. According to Wikipedia, a handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability based on the tees played for a given course. It is used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes actually played during a competition, allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms. The higher the handicap, the poorer the player is relative to those with lower handicaps.

I had a high handicap; my goal was to lower it. It’s no different than an owner trying to improve their gross margin over time. Having a clear goal is the best prescription you can have in business or life.

After I left the company my nemesis was caught cheating during a tournament. It seems he couldn’t count his stokes accurately, leaving some off when it was convenient.

Integrity matters, on the golf course, in business and in life. He soon departed the company; it was not his choice to do so. His inability to count accurately in the single digits was part of his downfall.

It’s supposed to be funny when someone throws a club after a bad shot or a blown putt. But, it is nothing more than anger and immaturity gone wild.

The golf course is the one place to keep your emotions in check. Passion is one thing, stupidity another. A good golfer, like a good businessperson, knows the difference and acts accordingly.

Golfing, you have to keep your head in the game. An all time Masters Tournament meltdown happened in 1996. Greg Norman started the final round of the six strokes ahead of Nick Faldo. To win, Norman had to shoot even par and he would wear the green jacket. Norman collapsed on the final day, shooting a 78 to Faldo’s 67.

I’ve never been where Greg Norman was, but it seems to me that something got into his head that day to cloud his thinking.

Gandhi was credited with saying, “Where ever you are, be there.” On the golf course or at work, it remains great advice. Give whatever you are doing your full attention. You do a better quality job when you do this.

Early on, once I stopped fretting about how poorly I was doing, I learned that playing a round of golf or hitting a bucket of balls clears your head. Everyone needs a place to forget about the challenges and problems. Going golfing, sitting on the beach or hiking through the woods can do that.

Every owner and leader needs to find their own version of a golf course, a place to work on their business, and not in it.