I just got off the golf course hitting 9-holes with my Pop, who is 84 years old. God bless him, I hope he has many more rounds to play and I look forward to getting out as often as I can with him. We played the En-Joie Golf Club; a stop on the PGA Tour from 1972 to 2005 when the BC Open was played there – and now, as the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, which is a stop on the Champions Tour. It is unique in that the course is owned and operated by Broome County. This means that anyone off the street can play a PGA course for municipal rates, which top-out at $49 for 18-holes with a cart on summer weekends (it can be less, depending on date, day of the week, and time).
“Weapons of Grass Reduction”
Keeping in mind that I “play golf” and not “work golf”, and I try to keep it “light”. As such, each outing is a mix of exhilaration and frustration. In fact, I refer to my golf clubs as my “weapons of grass reduction”. Although I enjoy the game, living in Germany I don’t get out nearly as often as I would like (maybe once per year in Germany). This is mostly because golf is considered an “elitist” sport and the play is considerably more restricted (and expensive) as compared to playing the States. This, in turn, means there are few people with whom to play – and those that do play tend to be too serious and not “fun” to play with. Who needs that.
Golf, life, and business….
Playing a round of golf, I can’t help but draw parallels between my experiences preparing for a round and going out on the course, and my experiences in business and in life.
“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
So, I went to the driving range the day before today’s round just to warm-up and prepare myself for the carnage to come. I got a large bucket, which holds about 80 balls, and went to the practice area. I always start my routine with the low-irons; the 7-iron thru lob-wedge. I will hit 70% of the balls using these clubs. The rest, save a few, I will spend on my 5-wood and driver. The last few I practice a “trick/trouble shot”, which is a choked-up 3-wood, which I use to punch-out from under the trees (there are a lot of trees at En-Joie).
I was not particularly impressed with the results. My lob and pitching wedges were pretty reliable and accurate. My 9-iron through 7-iron were progressively less so. And my woods were behaving relatively well with pretty good distance, but erratic accuracy. We shall see.
I also took stock of my equipment. My clubs were in good order and I had an ample supply of golf balls and tees. But I noticed my golf glove had a hole worn through the palm and the leather was stiff. So I went to the store and bought a new one.
- OpEx Lesson: Assessments are essential. There was no time for education and training, I was golfing the next day. But what I could do is assess the state of my game to determine what was working and what wasn’t working – and to what degree. This would help me understand my capabilities when I was actually on the course.Other than skills (which, admittedly, I am lacking), it is also important to determine the readiness of the other assets and resources you will need and determine their readiness and availability – making the necessary adjustments accordingly.
I woke-up today, took a couple ibuprofen (to ease the stiffness from yesterday’s practice) and also a few allergy pills; remember, En-Joie has a lot of trees and the oaks are near their full pollination phase.
I arrived at the course about a half-hour early. This allowed plenty of time to stretch, look at the course for its condition, take a couple putts on the practice green, and generally make the mental transition to be in the moment.
- OpEx Lesson: Be Prepared – it’s not just the motto of the Boy Scouts of America, it is probably the most critical key to being successful. Make sure you are ready before you engage. Arrive at the place of action well in advance of starting so you have the opportunity to observe anything that might influence your outcome that is different from what you planned and expected. Doing this will give you the opportunity to make last-minute adjustments. Or, in the case of rain or other significant threats to success for which you are inadequately prepared, the opportunity to disengage, reassess, and engage at a later time when the circumstances are more favorable.
“I love it when a plan comes together.” – Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, the “A-Team”.
My Pop and I played “best ball”. We each hit, then pick the best of each of our shots and hit the next shot from there. My drives were booming; long, straight, and in the (correct) fairway. In fact, I we used my drives on all the holes. My Pop contributed a tee-shot on a Par-3 and most of the second shots, as my irons were just not working for me. We shared the contributions for the pitches. And I even had the opportunity to (successfully) hit my “trick/trouble” shot – much to my Pop’s amazement (and mine).
- OpEx Lesson: Execute your strategy and your plan – try very hard not to deviate from either, as only peril and doom await. Know what you can do and do it; and know what you can’t do and get the help you need to augment your weaknesses.I had a good day off the tee. But the only reason this was so was because of my practicing the day before. Again, I knew I wasn’t going to get any better, but I did know what I could and could not do. For instance, I knew any plan that included “crushing” anything would not work. If I were to try to produce a mighty golf swing complete with finishing in the PGA “pose” on the follow-through, I would fall backwards on the backswing and pull untold muscles on a follow-through. But I did know that if I set my stance, had a smooth swing, and let the club do its job, the likelihood of my not embarrassing myself would increase. I also knew I could (mostly) rely on my Pop for the second shot.
“You drive for show, but putt for dough” – Bobby Locke
We should have spent some time working the practice greens – ‘nuff said.
- OpEx Lesson: If you assume without testing your assumption, or you have a weakness for which you don’t prepare for it in one way or another, there is a strong likelihood that a visit to the hurt-locker is in your future. Take your lumps and do better next time.
“Hurry up and slow down.” – Joseph Paris
Besides being an irritant to your partners and pretty-much everyone else on the course, there is nothing more irritating then having to wait to take your next swing because someone in front of you (or in front of them) is playing slowly. Waiting makes you lose your rhythm and gives your muscles a chance to stiffen (or seize right up, if you are older).
Much better, is for everyone in your group to hit their ball and then move at a relaxed pace to your ball. As you are walking, and in addition to the normal chit-chat, you should be thinking of your next shot. What will you hit and how will you (hope to) hit it? When you get to you ball, make a final assessment and plan, select your club, and swing away when it’s your turn. Extra hint: The first club you decide to use is always the one you should hit. Second guessing will only produce sub-optimal results because you are thinking. Don’t think. I can guarantee nothing good will come of it.
- OpEx Lesson: A few assumptions are necessary for “hurry up and slow down” to work, and we have covered them above; i) you have to know what you can and cannot do, ii) what resources are available and what are not, iii) you have a strategy and a plan, each of which are better evolved than notions, but not so detailed and rigid as to not allow for any “give”, iv) are properly prepared to engage and execute your plan, and v) are in a state of readiness when things don’t go according to plan.Quite a few assumptions, I know. And no plan survives first contact (mine doesn’t survive the backswing). But if you try to follow this prescriptive approach, you will be able to get to where the action is more quickly, perform a final assessment and prepare any final adjustments, make your move, and be able to make forward progress more swiftly. And making forward progress (without losing too many balls) is what it’s all about.
“There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is imitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius
After our round, my Pop and I reflected on the day’s play; what worked, what didn’t work – the good, the bad, and the ugly. We congratulated one another on our good shots, cringed over our dreadful shots, discussed what we would have done differently. For me, I came to believe my ball was too forward in my stance for the irons and that is the root-cause of my trouble – I will have to test that. Most important, we celebrated the opportunity to enjoy a nice day on the course – together.
- OpEx Lesson: Debriefing is important. There is no greater act in becoming better than to perform a proper debrief after some action. It is an opportunity to bond and build a trust with those who share the experience with you. It is an opportunity to reflect on the experience for what worked, what didn’t work, what each of us individually – and all of us together – could have done better or differently. It is an opportunity to collect our thoughts and experiences and share them with others so that they can benefit from what we have learned. And it is an opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments and nurse our wounds.
“No man is an island unto himself” – John Donne
In the movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (in my opinion, the best golf movie ever made and one of the best movies ever), the Bagger Vance finds Rannulph Junuh coming face-to-face with his demons – the trauma and memories of his experiences in the first World War.
Junuh is alone in the woods and is sorely afraid and full of doubt. He wants to quit, but Vance helps guide Junah through the peril and back from the brink of the abyss.
Vance tells Junah that golf is “a game that can’t be won, only played”.
- OpEx Lesson; The more we know, the more we realize how little we know – at least that is how it should be as we grow and mature. We need to recognize that, when we came into this world, we knew nothing – we were completely helpless and dependent upon others for our very survival. Since those early days, we have all had mentors to help us grow; some have helped build our knowledge, some have helped us expand our experiences, some have helped us understand ourselves better, and some have helped us overcome challenges. These people were mentors to us and were invaluable to our growing as a person.The peril is that, eventually, we might believe we know everything we need to know and cease learning – happy with our increasingly stale thoughts in our now hermitized brains. This would be a mistake.Assuming that you did not make that mistake, others will eventually look to you for mentorship. When that happens, please be sure to reflect on those who have helped you by being your mentor and consider the honor of being a mentor to others. After all, they paid it forward. It’s time for you to repay that debt.
Golf can offer us insights and teach us a lot about ourselves, our lives, our character, and the circumstances and character of those around us. Indeed, what I have offered above is just a very few of the lessons that can be learned.
As with golf, in business – indeed with life itself – we can never win, only play. We will have our moments of glory and moments of agony. Just remember; don’t have too tight a grip, keep your head down – and enjoy the game.
About the author
Joseph Paris is an international expert in the field of Operational Excellence, organizational design, strategy development and deployment, and helping companies become high-performance organizations. His vehicles for change include being the Founder of; the XONITEK Group of Companies; the Operational Excellence Society; and the Readiness Institute.