In Defense of Golf

Responding to Lou Mosca, a Morning Report reader argues that playing golf has made him a better business leader. 

By Jim Kalb

As far as I’m concerned, Lou Mosca’s recent comments on reading and golf are  completely wrong. In fact, I think they do a disservice to golfers and business owners. In my own experience, I have learned far more from golf than I have reading business books. I think that Anthony Jeselnik, a comedian, put it best:

“My father always believed that you could only learn something by actually doing it—not by simply reading how to do it in a book. So when my brother was only 5 years old, my father threw him in the deep end of the swimming pool—and that’s how my father learned CPR.”

So here are 10 things I’ve learned playing golf that I could NEVER have learned from a book:

  1. No one gets good at the game overnight—just as no one builds a company overnight. And no one ever truly becomes an expert.
  2. You can only hope to get good with practice, doing the same thing over and over and over again. The more time I spent practicing my sales techniques, the more products I sold.
  3. No matter how much I practice, I still make bad shots. No matter how much time I practiced my sales techniques, more often than not, I failed to make a sale.
  4. Small things matter. If my putter face is off just 1 or 2 degrees when it strikes the ball, or if I hit the ball slightly too hard or too soft, I’ll miss the putt. And when you miss a putt, it’s a miss whether you miss by several feet or by fractions of an inch. 
  5. The full golf swing is mostly the same each and every time. So the successful golfer focuses on executing the same predictable swing—and not by trying to reinvent their swing each time they go to the course. Creating a successful business is really about doing a bunch of small, everyday boring things correctly, time and time again. Brands are built on consistency.
  6. Sometimes there are natural conditions—wind, rain, gopher holes, etc.—that can affect your play. Successful golfers learn  to play the course on the day that they play the course and not by hoping for better conditions that may never arrive. These golfers know that their competition is confronting the same conditions. Same thing with business conditions, which are constantly changing. The successful businessperson plays on through those challenges.
  7. Golf is a game of rules that apply to every player. Unless you’re a PGA professional, there is no one watching you play so it’s up to you alone to enforce the rules of golf. Ultimately, cheating in golf is cheating yourself. In business, cheating hurts yourself and your reputation. People do business with people they trust. Integrity is about doing the right things even when no one is looking.
  8. Let’s face it, there are some real idiots who play golf. Sometimes they’ll loudly cuss and throw tantrums. They sulk, throw clubs, or drink until they can’t even drive a golf cart safely. Learning to play with these types of people can be challenging—and hard to avoid. You can be matched up with any bozo on the first tee. Learning to keep your head down and just play your own game can be one of the greatest skills you can learn. In business, similarly, you will absolutely encounter idiots you’d never want as friends. But sometimes you need to work with these people. Learning the grace to keep your head down, check your emotions, and just do your job is one of the most difficult but important skills to try to master.
  9. Golf is generally played outdoors in the fresh air, among the local fauna and flora (we have groves of trees, flowers, seasonal creeks, several coyotes, a mating pair of red-tailed hawks, a falcon, and lots of squirrels and rabbits that inhabit our local golf course). I almost always carry my own clubs over the hilly terrain, giving me about 18,000 steps (7 to 8 miles) of exercise each time I play. I have met some really great people on the course, both locals and visitors, some of whom have become good friends off the course. Golfing has allowed me to enhance my physical and psychological well-being. I have met some incredible people who have taught me so much about the world and myself. (I have NEVER met anyone in a library that I would nwant to go out and have a drink with after reading my book.)
  10. One day, everything is going great. You’re keeping your drives in the middle of the fairway, hitting greens in regulation, and making 40-foot putts. Final score: 74. Keep this up, and you’ll soon be playing on the PGA Senior tour. The very next day, on the very same course, playing in the very same conditions, nothing goes right. You shank drives into the lateral hazard or the fairway bunkers. Your approach shots miss the greens. You’re unable to make 3-foot putts. Final score: 95 (true story!). My experience in business is very much the same. Some days are going so well and I’m having so much fun that I’m almost embarrassed that I make money doing this. Other days, nothing goes right, and I want to crawl back in bed and binge watch Seinfeld reruns. It’s the not-knowing part from one day to another that keeps me coming back. I know I’ll never master golf or business, but that’s not my ultimate goal. It’s to try and get better while remembering to enjoy the journey.

Please note: I wrote this quickly, and it could probably use some editing, but I’m late for my tee-time so I need to run.

Jim Kalb is president and founder of Triad Components Group.

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