Lessons from Tiger’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Weekend

Posted 06.24.2009

Tiger2 Regular readers of this blog and anyone who’s heard me deliver a presentation lately  know that I am a huge fan of Tiger Woods.  His level of focus and commitment to continuous improvement are great examples for leaders.  So, I was mildly bummed when Tiger wasn’t able to overcome an 11 shot deficit and ended up finishing four shots behind the winner of the U.S. Open this past weekend.

You’re not tuning into this blog for a sports report, however, so it’s fair to ask, “What’s the point on leadership?”  Well, sometimes we can learn as much from less than perfect examples as we can from the perfect ones.  Tiger provided us with a couple of those at Bethpage Black last weekend.

If you paid any attention to this year’s tournament, you know that the golf course was subject to torrential rains throughout the weekend.  Play was delayed for hours at a time and most of the golfers ended up playing from early in the morning until nightfall on Saturday and Sunday to get in the holes that were missed on Thursday and Friday.  The tournament finally concluded on Monday.  The U.S. Open is always a physical, mental and emotional test for the best players in the world.  With the weather and conditions, that was probably doubly the case this year.

When Conditions Change, Adjust Your Plan

All of that had an interesting impact on Tiger Woods. Among many other attributes, Woods is known as the consummate planner.  He comes into major tournaments with a well mapped game plan.  But, as the well known philosopher, Mike Tyson, once said, “Everyone’s got a game plan until they get hit.”  As Tiger himself acknowledged when the greens at the Open became soaked with rain, he was not able to adjust his putting to the much slower than expected conditions. Some of the putts that he left just outside the edge of the cup were likely the difference between his 4th place finish and winning the Open.

Don’t Obsess on What You Can’t Control

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins noticed something else about Tiger at the Open. The mud generated by all the rain didn’t just get on his shoes, it got into his head. Here’s a pull quote from Jenkins’ column that sums up her point:

“The problem with mud is not that's it's dirty, but that it's unpredictable, and it has clearly introduced an element of chance into the U.S. Open that is unwelcome to Woods. ‘It is what it is, it's potluck,’ Woods said glumly after his opening-round 74 left him 10 strokes off the lead. Mud sucked at his spikes and slowed down play, and it clogged the dimples of his ball and made the flight of it fickle. ‘I had about four mud balls today,’ he said unhappily.”

After reading this column on Saturday morning, I noticed that almost the first thing Tiger mentioned in his post round interview on Saturday afternoon was how muddy it was out there. Apparently, even Tiger Woods sometimes allows his focus to be overwhelmed by factors he can’t control.

Keep It Simple

So, what can Tiger or any leader do when things don’t go as planned?  A good place to start might be to follow what Tiger recently told Fortune magazine was the best advice he ever got  (Thanks to Next Level reader Marty for the tip on this!).  Here’s how Woods told the story:

“When I was young, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I'd play on the Navy golf course with my pop. My dad would say, ‘Okay, where do you want to hit the ball?’ I'd pick a spot and say I want to hit it there. He'd shrug and say, ‘Fine, then figure out how to do it.’ He didn't position my arm, adjust my feet, or change my thinking. He just said go ahead and hit the darn ball.”

So, late breaking news flash, none of us, not even Tiger Woods, is consistently perfect. Our best laid plans can be disrupted by factors we can’t control. As a matter of fact, we may as well expect the unexpected to happen and, when it does, keep it simple by reminding ourselves where we want to go and then hitting the darn ball.