Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Lesson About Attitude From the US Open Golf Championship

This year, the U.S.A.’s national golf championship was held in the state of Washington. Much fanfare heralded the tournament, since the Pacific Northwest had never played host to a US Open before, and the venue (Chambers Bay Golf Course, near Seattle) opened less than a decade ago. The location, abutting Puget Sound, is visually stunning, and the golf course is reminiscent of an old British links-style layout, in both its overall design and in the abundance of sloping hillocks that test the skill and patience of even the most experienced competitors. In defiance of stereotypes about the region, too, not a drop of rain fell during the event, and blue skies and brilliant sunshine were the rule.

But there was one big problem, and many of the players in the field didn’t shy away from expressing their feelings about it: namely, the greens were below the standard than professional golfers expect in a major golf championship. A few of the competitors groused loudly and publicly, and suggested that Chambers Bay should not be a future US Open venue, barring an improvement in the quality of the putting surfaces. Incidentally, putting played a conspicuous role in the outcome of the tournament, as long-hitting Dustin Johnson missed a short stroke on the final hole to hand Jordan Spieth an outright victory.

Nonetheless, one indication of an exceptional championship golf course is its tendency to reward talent, skill, and top-notch play. The winner of this year’s US Open was by no means unheralded; Spieth was arguably the best male golfer in the world entering the championship. Irrespective of the quality of the greens at Chambers Bay, a great champion still found a way to prevail.

Focus on the factors you can control; accept the circumstances you can’t.

Tempting though it may have been to impugn the course conditions, and by extension, the staff and organizers of the event, all of the competitors in this year’s US Open faced exactly same obstacle to success. Whether a player loved the putting surfaces or hated them made no difference to the reality of the situation; if he wanted an opportunity to contend for the trophy, he would need to handle those greens to the best of his ability.

Examples abound of challenges that every business has to handle in order to compete:  taxes, customer service and retention, innovation, marketing, investment and fundraising, various categories of paperwork. Often, these difficulties coincide with each other, or arise amid unfavourable circumstances. The sooner you accept the circumstances you can’t control, the more time you can to devote to offering a great product or service to your customers, rather than making excuses.

Keep your troubles in perspective.

The gripers at Chambers Bay probably could have benefited from a little perspective.

Most amateur golfers would relish the opportunity to putt on greens as smooth and verdant as the ones competitors in the US Open were complaining about. (The typical green at a municipal golf course is bumpy, pockmarked with divot holes, and peppered with patches of dead grass.) On second thought, what percentage of the human population has the opportunity to enjoy a regular round of golf at all—let alone play the game for a living?

Likewise, while there is nothing easy about founding and maintaining a business, you should always try to maintain a sense of perspective. At least you live in a country that affords you the chance to become an entrepreneur and lead a comfortable lifestyle, all while enjoying significant personal and political freedoms.

For the vast majority of people, easy street doesn’t exist. But success is that much sweeter when you know you’ve overcome adversity in order to attain it.