Golf & Strategy

Honing ‘Short Game’ Skills for Success

With universal rules, the golf course becomes common ground for developing successful business relationships.

- By Vincent Pane

Golfer Sam Snead racked up numerous wins including 82 PGA Tour victories, three Masters Golf Tournament wins, three PGA Championships and one British Open. He seemed liked a natural-born golfer, and yet he wrote, “I’d like to have a quarter for every shot I hooked with my natural grip before I developed the unnatural grip that let me hit them straighter.” Though great golfers have ability, they are also persistent when things do not go their way. Instead of giving up, they figure out which skills need developing to capture the next win. In most cases, that means developing both long game and short game shots.

Persistence seems to be something all successful golfers have in common. Kevin Streelman was the winner of the Tampa PGA Championship in March 2013, but 10 years ago he was a caddy on weekends at the Whisper Rock Golf course in Scottsdale, Ariz. During those 10 years he lost all his money and his financial backers because of a poor golfing performance in tournaments. During one lucky chance to play a practice round with golfer Mike Weir, Streelman realized he could learn to play just as well as the then current Masters Champion. Streelman’s March win was his 153rd PGA start, netting him $990,000 in winnings. “It just shows you … determination, hard work and keep chasing your dreams and you never know what will happen,” he commented.

Soft Putts on Rough Courses Bring Success

There are many such losing-to-winning stories in golf, and persistence is the common thread. Mike Thompson was a surprise winner of the 2013 Honda Classic golf tournament. He played against the world’s top players and had never won a PGA Tour tournament before. Just two weeks prior, he had come in last at a tournament and his coach offered to quit and take the blame. Thompson’s answer: let’s work harder.

Business and golf have a lot in common. The current business “course” seems to be all rough and sand traps and very little green. Europe is back in a recession. New job creation in the United States is at its lowest since 1979. There is a continuing credit crunch, increasing regulation and undependable financial markets. Yet, the successful business leaders persistently pursue the skills and competencies needed to succeed despite landing in the rough.

In golf, there are two components of the game – the long game and the short game. The business mission and goal oriented strategies can be considered the long game consisting of drives and fairway “shots,” like the launching and nurturing of new business initiatives or projects. The short game is where persistence leads to victory. There are hours of practicing approach shots, and learning pitching and putting. When a business initiative is close to success, the approach shot may require changing a marketing strategy to reach the targeted market or re-aligning staff to ensure the most talented people are in the right jobs. It may be necessary to take a few pitching shots, like upping product or service offerings or identifying and revising plans to overcome unexpected hurdles like a new competitor. Pitching elevates the business effort to get the project back on course. The short game of golf also includes putting, in which the ball must travel a short distance to a golf hole to score points. Bringing a business initiative to fruition will usually require some skilled “putts” by managers who rely on their experience, intuition, skills and business knowledge to assess the slope of the course and decide how to best bring an initiative or project to closure.

Make or Break the Game

Persistence in golf brings success, but only when the whole game is learned. Mastering the long game is not enough. The greatest golf champions did not win strictly by making long drives and approach shots because the ball still needs to reach the hole. Tom Watson is a firm believer in the short game, and he has been quoted as saying that “practice makes nearly perfect.” His philosophy was to be prepared for anything he might come across on the course, so he practiced thousands of chip shots using a variety of golf clubs. Jack Nicklaus won many golf championships with his short game. He seldom missed putts under 6 feet, and it was his famous long putt that netted him the 1986 Augusta National championship. Interestingly, he did not particularly like putting, so he made sure he mastered the shot. He was always prepared to putt from the middle of the green.

Recently, Nicklaus talked about how he advises other golfers like Tiger Woods and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts. He said, “I just try to find out what they are thinking and what they are trying to accomplish, what they are trying to do, what are their goals and how do they approach what they are doing. I told Nicolas the other day, I said, ‘There’s going to be half a dozen golf shots on this golf course that make or break this golf course that can kill you, not so bad if you hit it good. But if you hit it poorly, you’re down the road.’”

Nicklaus could have been a businessman talking about a project team. Seve Ballesteros died in 2011 but he will go down in history as one of golf’s greatest short game golfers. Ballesteros was said to have a natural instinct for the short game, and yet he relentlessly practiced. Persistence in golf pays off, and so does persistence in business. However, it is not persistence alone that brings success. There must be strategies to cover long and short business goals and the persistence needed to keep business initiatives on track. Golfers learn a variety of short game shots in order to be prepared for any course and any kind of situation because they want to win games, tournaments and championships. It is simply a good way to manage their business.