Golf & Business

Lesson from the Green: 'Game of Misses' in Golf and Business

It is well-known that golfers inspire businesses to strive for success by overcoming obstacles. When success seems several rough greens away, listen to the pros and keep trying.
—By Vincent Pane

Leading a business or managing various functions in an organization takes true grit because new challenges constantly appear. It is especially true in a globalized economy and tumultuous political environment, compounded by technology advancing at lightning speed and changing workforce demographics.

People from the CEO down need inspiration from time to time in order to continue innovating and conquer the challenges. That is when it is helpful to read the words of professional golfers who have succeeded in the face of worldwide competition from young golfers, golfing equipment made from new materials and in new styles, bad weather, challenging golf courses that never play the same from game to game, and days when at a low point mentally and physically. Professional golfers and business leaders have a lot in common as reflected in quotes from master golfers.

Strength of Mind and Character
Arnold Palmer said, "Success in golf depends less on strength of body, more on strength of mind and character."

Working long hours does not necessarily equate to success. Many times, managers will evaluate staff members based on their willingness to physically persevere at his or her desk, or today, on computers and mobile phones. "He doesn't work hard," is the mantra.

CEOs can work long hours, and the company still runs into problems. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, slept on the floor of the vehicle assembly plant so he could suffer more than other employees during a period of production troubles. Musk also had to step down as company chairman due to issues with the SEC.

To Musk's credit and despite the naysayers, the plant did meet production goals, and Tesla turned a profit the third quarter of 2018. However, there are still many analysts who believe this is just a temporary state of affairs due to overwhelming effort on the part of "Musk loyalists."

The reality is that Musk and his employees cannot build a sustainable company by working hard on no sleep. Instead, Musk and other managers might heed Palmer's advice and focus on strength of mind to pursue innovation in a financially sound way and strength of character to maintain an ethical culture.

Misses the Best
Ben Hogan said, "This is a game of misses. The guy who misses the best is going to win."

In 1964, Sam Snead and Hogan played the "Match of the Century" in the first Shell Wonderful World of Golf challenge in 1961. The two professionals played a game full of great shots mingled with a lot of misses. Hogan had trouble putting. Snead hit a shot that did not clear trees. These kind of misses went on throughout the match, but both golfers managed to stay close in scoring. In the end, Hogan won with a 69 to Snead’s 72 because he was a great golfer and he “missed the best.”

"Missing" in the business world usually takes the form of a bad decision. Bad decisions can be overcome with strength of mind. Also needed is good strategizing in which there are ways around potential misses. It is a major reason project teams establish benchmarks. Bad decisions or events not unfolding as planned can lead to an expensive disaster or to better decisions and innovation.

Netflix is a classic example of a company that experienced misses but recovered to become a powerhouse streaming service. In 2011, the company nearly went bankrupt because top executives decided to split up a single subscription plan into two plans, raising prices by 60 percent. This was definitely a miss, like the 1-foot missed putt of In-Kyung Kim in the 2012 Kraft Nabisco golf competition that cost her the first major that year. Netflix lost sight of the importance of strong, positive relationships with its customers.

The company's leaders were savvy enough to learn from the miss and develop a new strategy for pricing and delivering streaming services. Netflix is now recognized as one of media's top successful companies.

Fear is a Hazard
"Of all the hazards, fear is the worst," said Snead.

Fear on the golf course is often paralyzing. Golfers are afraid of missing a putt, losing a lead, being off-kilter mentally, experiencing physical issues, or just having bad luck. Albane Valenzuela, a Swiss amateur golfer, admits she had to overcome fear of making mistakes in order to win. She had approached high-pressure tournaments with fear, but decided that fear does not bring anything good. She developed an attitude of confidence that she could win matches even under pressure and against attacking opponents.

Bad decisions can be overcome with strength of mind. Also needed is good strategizing in which there are ways around potential misses.
Fear of failure can plague even the most brilliant business people, like Bill Gates. His first company, Traf-O-Data, was a failure, and he experienced several failures at Microsoft. Instead of becoming fearful and depressed, he learned from his failures.

In his book, "Business @ the Speed of Thought: Succeeding in the Digital Economy," he addresses failure. "Once you embrace unpleasant news not as a negative but as evidence of a need for change, you aren't defeated by it. You're learning from it. It's all in how you approach failures."

Fear can lead to success when it is used as a catalyst for change.

Golf Game of Life
Golfers and business people have a lot in common because they all experience human emotions, and they all want to win at whatever is attempted. Sometimes things do not go as planned, and words of inspiration are needed to keep going.

Professional golfers offer unique perspectives on winning, losing and competing.

Sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella sums it up by saying, "Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the one you think you should."