I’ve written before about the Masters, and if you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll know I often draw references between sports and leadership. Golf, to me, is so much like leadership because for the most part, it’s a solitary sport—the work you put in shows in your results, just like it does when you lead a team. Here are a few more lessons we can learn from the Masters:
Overnight success does not exist. Often talked about in sports and business, the term “overnight success” refers to someone new to the sport who seemingly finds massive success in their first major outing. Jordan Spieth, for example, is one of those people. In 2015, at the age of 21, he won the Masters tournament, and had only been to the Masters once before. He even tied Tiger Woods’ 72-hole record (sent in 1997) and became the second-youngest golfer (after Woods) to take the top spot at the Masters. The press called him an overnight sensation but really, it wasn’t true. Spieth shot a 62 at the age of 12. He also trained hard at not only golf but also several other sports.
Encouraged by his parents to pursue football and baseball (he was a quarterback and a pitcher) he would eventually focus on golf, leading the University of Texas team to a national title. In an interview, Spieth’s mom, Chris, said: “We did not raise our kids to be one-sport athletes. You have to let them explore options… you have to make sure they know that life is more important than one sport, or one goal.” She also said, “There’s a lot that can be learned from competing as a team. I think having that experience really grounds you and prepares you for other things in life beyond sports.” Teamwork really is the dreamwork!
Success has its ups and downs. Tiger Woods is a perfect example of the roller-coaster ride that often is success. After experiencing massive success, Woods defined a new generation of golfers with his incredible record and historic Masters win in 1997. When Woods won the 2001 Masters, he became the only player to win four consecutive major professional golf titles, although not in the same year. After that Woods’ career slumped. With a few minor wins the next few years, Woods went through several surgeries that hindered his golfing abilities. Returning to golf in 2010, Woods’ career still suffered. With injuries, rumors and constant criticism swirling around him, Woods was declared “over,” and nobody thought he’d return to his triumphant playing status from the late ’90s and early 2000s. They were wrong.
With a career on the rise in 2018, Woods went on to win the Masters once more in 2019. Proudly wearing a green jacket for the fifth time, Woods ended a decade-long drought in majors. Woods is currently tied with Sam Snead for the most victories of all time on the PGA Tour, a testament to the fact that you are the only one who can define what you’re capable of accomplishing.
Scorekeeping and accountability are keys to effective leadership. Let’s turn the clock back to the 1968 Masters tournament when a scorecard error cost Argentinian golfer Roberto de Vicenzo a Masters victory. He had played a close game with American Bob Goalby and after a bogey on the 18th hole, he knew his lead was gone. Dejected, he sat at the scorer’s table with his unsigned score card beside him. (Golf is still one of the only sports where players have to keep their own score, which in itself is an important lesson about the value of scorekeeping. As the saying goes, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”)
Anyway, de Vincenzo is sitting at the table, staring into space, no doubt contemplating his devastatingly close loss, while Goalby was actually three-putting on 17. This meant the two were tied again, though de Vincenzo didn’t know it. Instead, someone asked him for an interview, so he looked at his scorecard, signed it and left to go speak with the press. As it turns out, de Vincenzo had put down a four at 17, and not the three he really shot, making his score 66 and not the 65 it should’ve been. Goalby won the Masters on a technicality, as Rule 38-3 in golf said the score he signed and returned must stand. In the end, de Vincenzo famously said, “This is my fault—nobody else’s. I have played golf for many, many years. I have signed many cards and none of them wrong. All I can say is what a stupid I am to be wrong in this wonderful moment.” In truth, de Vincenzo was far from stupid, and it shows tremendous leadership to take accountability for your mistakes. This is the sign of a person who understands what he did wrong, and owns up to the error, just as any leader should.
Success is a family affair. Jack Nicklaus, who won the Masters six times and holds the current record for most Masters victories, recalls his 1986 Masters win as among the sweetest. That year, his son, Jackie, caddied for him and his mom, who had not been to a Masters since his first appearance in 1959, was there with Nicklaus’ sister, Marilyn. When asked about that experience, his son Jackie told Golf Digest, “It was awfully special. And I had the best seat in the house.” From his perspective, Nicklaus said this about the win: “I did it, and that’s what I’m most proud of. And having Jackie there to support me, that was just neat.”
So, what’s the message? The Masters earned its reputation as the battlefield for golf legends and it’s what forces the best to become even better. As Gary Player, who won the tournament in 1961, 1974 and 1978 said: “Every shot is within a fraction of disaster. That’s what makes it so great.” By the way, for you real golf fans, check out this article from Golf Monthly with the 30 greatest moments from the Master: Read it here.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.