Golf & Business

I love golf.  Ever since my first round at age 13, I’ve enjoyed playing along with the camaraderie the game brings.  Even through my most disastrous rounds, the joy of being outside with friends far outweighs any poor scoring.

Golf strategy closely mirrors strategy in business and to a broader extent, life itself.  The old adage goes that golf is a game of misses.  To excel as a golfer, it takes preparation and practice which includes building muscle memory and mental toughness.

Why such a focus on preparation and the mental game?  Because, you are truly only ‘playing’ golf for under two minutes.  What you say!  That doesn’t make sense?  By the time you drive to a course, warm up and play your round that often extends to 6+ hours.

The average golf course is a par 72.  Statistics show the average back swing of a golfer is 0.75 seconds with the downswing being 0.25 seconds (a 3:1 ratio).  Assuming that most mid range golfers aim to shoot 90 strokes per round and at a second per stroke, they are actually only swinging a club for 90 seconds!  Hard to believe yet it’s true.

It’s all about the preparation.  After visualizing a shot, even the most experienced golfers will aim and fire, only to see your ball fly contrary to their plans.  Some of the greatest names in golf are far from perfect in their play.  Take for instance a name we all know – Tiger Woods.

In 2009, Tiger Woods was the #1 ranked golfer in the world, #1 money leader and #1 in Fedex Cup points. However, it’s how he came to be number 1 that is most fascinating.

In 2009 there were a total of 184 players on the PGA tour.  That year, Tiger Woods ranked 86th for driving accuracy and 21st for driving distance. By comparison, the 21st ranked player overall that year was Angel Cabrera.  Cabrera won $2.6 million dollars or about 25% of the $10.5 million Woods earned that year. The 86th ranked player that year was Bob Estes who won just over $1 million dollars.  Cabrera won a single tournament while Estes failed to win at all. It’s the whole game that matters. If you are balanced and can pull all aspects of your game together, you can come in 21st or 86th in certain areas and still excel overall.

Woods had a plan and a vision of what he wanted to do.  However, his plans often did not play out as expected.  It was his ability to recover that has made Woods one of the the greatest golfers our our generation. Once he found his ball, Woods started to show his true strength and battle back from these initial driving setbacks.  The closer he got to his goal (sinking a putt), the more he adjusted to his position and conditions.

Approaching the green, Woods ranked 3rd overall from 200 yards out.  When close to the green, Woods ranked 1st overall for shots between 20-30 yards out and 6th from under 10 yards.  For putting inside of 10 yards that year, Woods also ranked 1st on the tour.

This is as common and golf as it is in business, where even the most detailed plans often take wild and unexpected turns.  In business this could be due to many things including (but not limited to):

  • Supplier changes
  • Top customers slumping demand or going out of business
  • Increased competition
  • Compliance and regulatory changes
  • Staff and/or production issues

The comparative here is that in business like in golf, the goal is to narrow your misses and respond accordingly. To evaluate your position and continue to strengthen as you get closer to your end goal.

Understand all aspects of your playing field. Aim to be #1 or #2 in the areas that matter most and ensure other areas are not detrimental to performance even if your aren’t leading the pack.

Woods is a true standout winning close to 20% of the tournaments he’s entered. If you remove Woods from the top 50 golfers of all time, the average win percentage is closer to 8%, This means that the top golfers in the world lose on average 92 out of 100 tournaments entered. Resiliency is as important in sport as it is in business.

All this being said, it certainly doesn’t help your winning percentage if Woods shows up to play.

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