Fore! What Golf Taught me about Business


Golf fans like me are eagerly awaiting the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament, which is only a few weeks away. The legends of the game have all walked the fairways and greens of Augusta National, and many of them have become successful businesspeople outside of golf. That got me thinking: what lessons can golf teach us about being better at our business?

The more I thought about it, several lessons came to mind:

Lesson 1: Business, like championship golf, is a game of inches. The course that hosts the Masters each April is more than 7,400 yards long for tournament professionals, but what the galleries and TV audiences most remember are the inches that separate champions from runners-up. The inches between a birdie putt to take the lead, a miracle par to stay in contention, or an untimely bogey can mean the difference in winning a Green Jacket (traditionally given to Masters champions) or missing the cut entirely.

In business, inches can mean the difference in getting a key meeting with a decision maker at the right time (“Sorry, the CEO just left the office”), winning a competitive bidding process (“We were this close!”) or getting the right message across (“If only that prospect read a little bit further…”). Let’s be realistic, though. You don’t get to those near-misses if you aren’t positioning your business to get close. And the more often you get close, the better your chances of reaching your goal. The point here is you have to put yourself into position to make those inches count.

Lesson 2: Little things make a big difference in the outcome of the shot. With a 9-degree driver, a 1-degree difference at impact can mean the ball goes 20 yards offline. In the Masters, a player might find himself facing a two-shot swing, a really tough recovery shot or, ideally, set up beautifully for a strong approach to the green. For us recreational golfers, gripping the club a fraction of an inch in the wrong direction or rushing the downswing can worsen a hook or slice. Subtle adjustments can make a huge difference in where your ball ends up.

For an employee or customer, little things also make a big difference. How do they perceive your organization? Are little things getting in the way of fully engaging your employees and customers? It’s important to pay attention to the little things and make sure you’ve nailed the fundamentals.

Lesson 3: Where you are matters to where you want to go. Being in the fairway or the first cut of rough at Augusta National often means the difference in being able to reach or hold the green. For a lot of the Masters contenders, reaching the green is the easy part; the really tricky thing is getting close to the flag and not having the ball roll off the green into trouble. A strategy of great players is to envision playing a golf hole backward. They consider where each shot should land to set up the next one; this process gives a clear picture of where the tee shot should go (or not go), where the approach shot should land and where the best spot on the green to putt from is.

Imagine doing something similar to win a coveted account for your business. What must you do to close the deal? Preparation is the key. Knowing what’s important to the prospect and which decision makers you need to get in front of will help you plan your “shots.” Acquiring new customers is hard work and costs more than retaining those you already have. If you want to grow organically (and who in business doesn’t?), then you’d better make sure your existing customers are engaged. Take care to get the ball in play in the right spots, so to speak, and your approach shots will be much easier.

Lesson 4: Follow-through leads to better execution of the shot. Quit on a golf shot mid-swing and all sorts of bad things happen: you lose distance, chili-dip the club or maybe even whiff entirely. Under the Rules of Golf, it still counts as a stroke if you intended to strike the ball! Your business can’t just set up at address and make a half-hearted swing. You’ve gotta follow-through to give yourself the best chance. It’s the same with employees and customers. Engage them throughout the process of acquiring, developing and maintaining them.

The players fortunate enough to tee it up at the Masters are unbelievably gifted. And one lucky golfer is going to wear a Green Jacket after the tournament ends. But the truth is, every champion works really hard – before and during the event. In business, we have to do that too, but we also have to keep working hard.