Business Lessons From Jackie Burke Jr.

Jackie Burke Jr
Be sure to check out Jackie’s videos on Secret Golf.

One of my favorite follows on Twitter is Secret Golf.

They also have a great website. Great free videos and also a cheap premium subscription.

Steve Elkington, 10-time winner including a PGA Championship and two Players Championships is the founder. He’s the head guy.

But perhaps the best part of the whole deal is Jackie Burke Jr.

Jackie Burke Jr.

I wouldn’t have known that Jackie Burke existed if not for Secret Golf. Since then I’ve tried to read every article about him and watch every video of him.

I’ve also read his book.

The man is full of great advice.

Both about golf, life and business.

He’s in his 90s now, but still swinging the club nearly every day.

He grew up the son of a club pro (instructor at a country club) in Texas. Jackie developed into a great player and went on the PGA Tour in the 50s.

He won four tournaments in a row in 1952 and almost made it five in a row, but finished 2nd that year at The Masters. He did go on to win The Masters in 1956 and he followed that up with a win at the PGA Championship the same year.

After that Jackie would go on to co-found Champions Golf Club near Houston. He’s still there today giving lessons to pros and amateurs.

But the club is all about golf. No tennis courts. No pools. And you need to have and maintain a 15 handicap to become and stay a member.

Here are some things I’ve learned from Jackie from his book, interviews and videos over the last few years that relate well to business and to life.

Core Customer

I already mentioned this, but it’s worth digging into for a few sentences.

When Jackie started the Champions Club with his buddy Jimmy Demearet they focused solely on golf. There were plenty of other clubs with pools and tennis courts and all that kind of stuff.

They wanted to be different. They knew golf. They knew golfers. They knew good golfers that were serious about golf.

That was their core.

It’s allowed the course to succeed for several decades and it also leads us nicely into our next lesson…

Don’t Carry Debt

I’m sure Jackie has had to carry some debt personally and with his club.

Back in the ’50s when he was winning you wouldn’t get that much from playing tournament golf. In fact, I think he said in one interview that his winner’s check for winning the PGA in ’56 bounced.

Champions seems to have been successful for a long time. It seems like they had initial investments, but they haven’t stretched too far.

Not building pools and tennis courts probably helped. It looks like they have great facilities, though. They probably keep those updated and maintained all within budget. Never going out of control for acquisitions or anything that might put unnecessary stress on the club.

If You Chase Nickels, You’ll Get Nickels

This was a comment that wasn’t part of any interview, but I thought it was great.

Elkington was just videoing Jackie on the range talking to a fellow golfer. The golfer was reaching into his pockets for something and a bunch of receipts fell out or something like that.

Jackie told the guy: “If you chase nickels you’ll get nickels.”

Meaning, if you focus on small money you’ll get small money. If you focus on the big money you’ll get the big money.

So much of life is self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever you focus on or think will happen will probably happen.

You can worry about pinching pennies and that’s all fine and good.

Or you could spend that time looking for bigger opportunities to bring in new money.

People Like Rules

We do.

Well, it depends, but generally we like an orderly life. We like rules to live by for ourselves and rules for others to live by.

When it comes to running a business you have to know the right balance. Or feel your way to the right balance.

Providing rules and framework while also allowing for freedom.

I read about this in a book about Lego.

When they gave their team free reign to come up with new ideas the team struggled.

When they provided more rules and then challenged the team to come up with new ideas they thrived.

Provide direction. Provide some rules or a framework. That will help your team succeed.

It’s just like golf. The rules provide the framework. They can get a little hazy at times, but they still provide the framework.

First Things First

This is so important in golf. In fact, I’m still learning it…

It’s also important in life. And I’m still learning it…

It means that you can’t take Step #2 until you take Step #1.

In golf, you play one shot at a time. When things get crazy is when you start getting too far ahead of yourself. And it can also get crazy if you think in the past.

More on that later…

Life and business and games are about balancing big picture ideas and visions with short-term steps.

You don’t go from hitting your first ball to winning The Masters in a short timeframe. It’s a great goal, but it’ll take many, many steps to get there.

Take them one thing at a time.


Normally we look at this as a negative word. And I guess it is in some instances.

But the focus for Jackie Burke was that insecurity is good for life.

He likes telling a story about Ben Hogan.

Hogan would always try to put himself in an insecure situation. That’s where he came from. A tough, poor background. His life was never secure. It forced him to fight and improve and focus on fundamentals.

Hogan would win. He would enjoy that win for about a day. But he never let a win provide a sense of security. He knew that would derail future success.

So he always tried to put himself back in the frame of mind that his life was insecure.

That works for business too. Never get too high on yourself. It can change in a moment.

But it also works on the flip…things are never quite as bad as they seem in the really bad moments.

Yesterday Is A Million Years Ago

I wrote about this one before.

It’s important in golf to forget about bad shots and move on.

Coaches say the same thing about cornerbacks. Get beat by a WR? Forget it and move to the next play. Make an interception.

Jackie talked about this in the context of a really good round of golf and why it’s difficult to followup a great round with another solid round.

When we do something good it’s easy to think that we can do it again and again and it will always be easy.

But it’s not.

Jackie talks about how “recreation” has “recreate” as part of it.

Every day we have to recreate our world. Start from scratch. Focus on the fundamentals.

You might land a big client today, but tomorrow it’s back to the fundamentals.

Don’t Be A Fan, Do Something

Here’s another one that I’m starting to get the hang of…

Jackie had people he looked up to and people he sought advice from… Mentors in a way.

But he didn’t like to see himself as a fan. He wanted to be a doer.

I see this trap all the time in life.

For me it might be seeing a really successful entrepreneur and becoming a fan. I think many do it with Steve Jobs. And for good reason. He accomplished a lot.

But being a fan can keep you from being a doer.

Successful people rarely sit back and admire others. They are more focused on themselves and their own improvement. They’re focused on outdoing their mentors.


Jackie Burke Jr. is one of the greats in the game of golf. He’s still a great source of knowledge on golf, life and business. It’s really wonderful that Steve Elkington has documented so much of Jackie’s anecdotes and insights over the years.

Check out Jackie on Secret Golf. And check out his book. I’m due to re-read it myself.

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