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Lessons from the U.S. Open

Since 1965, the United States Golf Association has been holding the U.S. Open on Father’s Day weekend. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been watching the entire Sunday round with my daughters, Mindy and Kelli. If you think they dread this, you are wrong. They actually love it and look forward to watching every year. In fact, we are planning on being at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, WA 945 minutes away from home) in 2015 regardless of where we all live. But, I digress…

The U.S. Open always holds great drama. The lessons we as business people can learn from watching professional golfers deal with pressure are plentiful. Here’s what I witnessed from yesterday’s final round:

  1. Graeme McDowell became the first European since Tony Jacklin in 1940 to win this event. He did it by being the only player amongst the leaders to stay focused on task, even in the face of adversity. He played his game, never forced the action, and made the right decisions at the right time. The prime example came as he stood on the 18th fairway as he watched his nearest competitor, Gregory Havret from France, miss his birdie putt that would have tied them. McDowell now knew that all he had to do was par the hole. Instead of going for the Par-5 in two (a daring risk-reward play), he made the “smart” play by laying up, hitting the green in regulation, and giving himself a pretty simple two-putt to win. Had he dared to go all out, his chances to error increase and he could have thrown away the title. He knew his position and made the right call at the right time. The lesson – Know where you are and make decisions based on common sense, not arrogance.
  2. The 54-hole leader, Dustin Johnson, gave up his 4-stroke lead within the first three holes. His round turned disastrous with a triple-bogey on #2; a double-bogey on #3; and a bogey on #4. He never recovered. This is a highly skilled and talented young man who basically cracked under immense pressure. The lesson – Talent is important, but it can’t make up for having nerves of steel and confidence to bounce back when adversity strikes. Had he recovered right after his triple-bogey, he would still have had an excellent chance to win based on where his competitors finished.
  3. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els choked. These three golfers own 21 major championships between them and you would have thought that any one of them would have taken advantage of the leaders backing up. Instead, they forced the action on a brutally difficult course and paid the price. Instead of playing their game, they tried too hard and it cost them dearly. The young Frenchman, Havret, is ranked 391st in the world and only made the field because he made a 50-foot putt in England the week before to get him in a playoff. The lessons – Experience doesn’t always trump youth. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Don’t rest on your seemingly better credentials as they might not be good enough. Next, don’t try too hard. Trying too hard leads to mistakes you normally wouldn’t make.
  4. Be gracious in adversity. There is a stark difference between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson behind a microphone after a heart-breaking loss. Tiger is surly, curt, and uninviting. Phil is gracious, speaks at length, and offers a positive demeanor regardless of the outcome. Mickelson has that quality of great leadership. He hates to lose as much as Tiger, yet he won’t carry that through to the media or fans. The lesson – If you want to be viewed as an inspirational leader, then you have to exude confidence, pride, and graciousness when things get tough.

Congratulations to a deserving new champion, Graeme McDowell. I’m sure a few pints of Guiness were poured in Northern Ireland last night. Whether you are a golfer or not, I hope you can take a few lessons I observed from this great game yesterday. Golf is a microcosm of society and business. We need to learn from each other.

© 2010 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved

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