Spieth’s composure when under the greatest pressure can teach us all a lesson about golf, business and life, writes Karl Morris.
Imagine you have been transported twenty years into the future. You are sat in a clubhouse somewhere in the world. Relaxing in the post-round cocktail of good and bad memories from your recently finished five hour excursion. You begin to take a sip of your liquid reward, the conversation with your golfing friends starts to flow. You reminisce about past golfing glorious, both personal and vicarious. Someone in your group then says ‘do you remember that Open at Birkdale all those years ago when Jordan Spieth was just a kid?’ The collective memory banks are triggered into action. Oh yes, the time when he hit it sideways on that hole. He was on the practice ground, miles off line. He had blown the Open and then he somehow found a way to win. Didn’t he hole a couple of really long putts? Yes, I think he made an eagle somewhere!
I can pretty much guarantee in twenty years from now this conversation or something similar will take place. We will sit and regale about an extraordinary championship. Who knows how many majors Spieth may or may not have won at that point but nothing will ever take away from him the incredible achievement over the magnificent Birkdale links.
I managed to watch most of the weekend play and I couldn’t help but smile to myself on Saturday evening when a host of the ‘experts’ on TV and radio were saying things like, ‘I can’t see Jordan losing this one’ and ‘He has his game totally under control’. If there is one thing I have learned in over thirty years of coaching it is that just about the only thing we know for certain about the game of golf is we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. What felt great yesterday feels terrible today. We had the ball on a piece of string on the front nine and now a trawlers net couldn’t keep our ball in play on the back nine. Perhaps the biggest myth in the game of golf is the myth of consistency. It doesn’t exist.
Even the very best can hit the ball off line into the next county at the most unexpected of times. Perhaps a better way to look at the game is the best players are not consistent – they just manage the unpredictability better than most. Great players are flexible with their response to setbacks just as Spieth was on that final day. It is exactly the same way in business. As much as we would like the year to go as planned and the budgets and forecasts to be Nostradamus-like in their prediction how often does that actually happen? Predictions and forecasts of certainty run up against the chaos of real life. The weather is awful, some stock doesn’t arrive on time, we have a break in, a valued staff member decides the middle of summer is the perfect time for him to leave and ‘give playing a go’.
Stuff happens that we can never predict, just as Jordan Spieth must have felt he was playing golf with a different set of body parts on Sunday to the ones he had on Saturday. Yet he dealt with it, he hung on in there. At some level he must have realised that for no logical reason his mind and his body had started to play tricks on him but he stayed with it. He didn’t shut down what was possible. He stayed with his process, he weathered his own personal storm. In the most extreme of situations on the 13th hole when he had hit his tee shot miles off line he didn’t panic. He looked at the options and took a drop in the place that gave him the best shot at getting back in the game when so many of us would have panicked and tried to play an impossible shot. That clear thinking under pressure allowed him to make perhaps one of the greatest bogeys in the history of championship golf. In extreme situations our emotional brain can wreak havoc, we jump to conclusions and make bad decisions. Spieth hit the pause button and allowed his rational logical mind to do what was needed in that situation.
Again that lesson is clear for us all in our day to day business. For example, that e-mail which has you fuming and wanting to verbally destroy the person who sent it. Yet that emotional response could have serious long-term consequences. Hold the red button, take a bit of time before you respond. Let the emotional brain cool down. Golf throws some real curve balls at us all but nothing compared to life itself. Life doesn’t go in a straight line of predictability. This is for certain and, whilst we have little to no control over that, what we can control is our flexibility of response. We always have a choice as to how we respond to even the most challenging of situations. Nobody takes away that most fundamental of human rights.
We will still be talking about Spieth’s Birkdale Open many years from now. The story will not grow stale with the advancement of time – the lessons to be learnt from that Open will be as valid in twenty years’ time as they are today.