The US Open is going on right now in the golf world.
The best players around the world have assembled for what is usually considered to be the difficult test of golf.
Every year I look forward to the US Open because it’s different than other tournaments. A number of factors go into why the tournament is different, but the overarching theme is that the US Open is traditional recognized as the most difficult tournament to win in the game of golf.
The USGA, who runs the tournament, lets the rough grow thick and long. They make the greens unreasonably fast. They make it as difficult as possible for the best players in the world.
If you’re watching the US Open right now you’ve probably heard and seen some players crowing about the difficulty and unfairness of the course. That’s a tradition in golf, but especially in this tournament.
Jack Nicklaus, the man with the most major championships in golf, often said that he would get to the US Open and listen in the locker room. He would listen to players complaining about the course. Jack would then smile because he knew that any player that complained had no chance of winning that week. They were already mentally defeated.
And that’s the beauty of the US Open. It’s a mental grind that most of us can’t even imagine.
I do think there are parallels between the US Open and business. Here are some lessons we can take from the tournament that apply to business and to life.
Lesson #1. Life Is Not Fair, Move On
If you watch the US Open you’ll see some crazy stuff happen. Players will hit a shot exactly the way they want and it will end up in a horrible place. If you’re not incredibly strong mentally that can wear you down.
The players that let the bad bounces get to them are the ones that don’t win the tournament. The players that win are able to understand that golf, and especially the US Open, are not fair. You have to accept that you’ll get bad breaks and move on.
Tom Watson has one of the best outlooks on bad breaks. He got excited when he got a bad break. He saw it as an opportunity to show his recovery skill.
Now that is a great way to approach life. When you get a bad break approach it as an opportunity to show your ingenuity and resilience.
Lessons #2. Planning, Adapting
Nicklaus used to go to the US Open site well in advance of the event. He did this for all big events, but especially for the US Open. The course was different every year and he wanted to be prepared for the course and all the possibilities he could.
At that time, and still to a point today, most players simply arrived at the tournament on Monday, practiced through Wednesday and then played the events.
Nicklaus, on the other hand, would go months and weeks in advance. He would practice multiple times, hitting different shots and figuring out a plan. By the time tournament week came around he was confident in his plan and he would stick to it.
Now, it’s still the US Open and things will happen. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. So you still need to be able to adapt. When something bad happens, figure out how to get out of trouble and then get back to the plan.
Does that sound like business?
Do your best to plan, but when something unexpected happens simply look for a way out and how you can get back on plan.
Lesson #3. Restraint
Fairways and greens. That’s the name of the game at the US Open. If you get aggressive you’re going to pay. You might get away with it for a few holes, maybe even a couple rounds, but eventually it always catches up to you at the US Open.
The tournament is an incredible test of restraint and that’s a lot like business. Aggressiveness can work at the right time, but you can’t make a living doing it. The businesses that succeed in the long-term are often the ones with the most restraint. They work to keep things in control while sticking to their plan as much as possible. When things are bad they work to stick with the plan, but they also work to stick with the plan when thins are good.
I’ve watched many players that were hitting good shots at the Open then they get aggressive on a shot and they put themselves in and impossible spot.
Lesson #4. Fearlessness
Restraint is something I really believe in for the US Open and for life. But the best players often play with restraint and with fearlessness. When Nicklaus would hit a shot, and later Tiger Woods did the same, he seemed fearless. He never let a course make him afraid.
Part of being fearless comes from preparation, but it also comes from self-belief and confidence. It’s easy to think that confidence comes from doing well, but I think it’s good to have confidence in yourself even while you’re building your skills.
In business, it’s important to believe in what you’re doing. It makes you fearless in decisions you make. Stick with your plan, but be fearless in your decisions. This often leads to better execution whether you’re hitting a shot to a tight pin over a water hazard or deciding on a new person to hire for your team.
Lesson #5. The Most Difficult Things Are The Most Rewarding
Finally, the most difficult things really are the most rewarding. It’s something most of us have always known. We know that many people give up when things get difficult and that if we can succeed we are really doing something that others can never dream of doing.
When you look at the winner’s face after they win the US Open they often have a look like they’re on top of the world. They seem like they know that they’ve done something that is incredibly difficult. And they often feel internal pride because they know that they put themselves to the ultimate test.
It gets back to embracing difficulty. When you get through it and see it as an opportunity it really pays off when you succeed.
I’ll be tuned in all weekend to the US Open. It’s not fun to see the best golfers in the world getting beat up all the time, but for one week a year it’s enjoyable. I believe that if you want to get to know someone you golf with them. I think that if you really want to get to know the best golfers in the world that you watch them play in the US Open. It takes them through all the emotions.
And it’s the same way in life. We all go through difficult challenges in life. It’s how we respond to them that defines us.