What the Best Golfers Know About Execution

What the Best Golfers Know About Execution

Every now and then you come read something or come across an idea that is so obvious and simple that it haunts you. In a good way.

I recently got back into golf, after years of dwindling rounds, and as I wrote earlier this year I was shocked by the attention to detail required of me to be able to regain any semblance of my old form. During this reunion, I've spent some of my free time reading books on golf. One book that I've found to be incredible is Bob Rotella's Golf is not a Game of Perfect.

Golf is mental game and Rotella's book is about this aspect of golf. It's an easy read b and filled with short chapters detailing stories of him working with some of the best golfers and each chapter has a lesson or an application to a particular part of the game. All the lessons are fantastic for the game of golf. Many are applicable outside of golf, though I think you have to be a golfer to fully appreciate them. I could be wrong.

In a chapter about short game (shots hit from 120 yards in) I came across an idea that haunts me. Rotella writes that to be a successful golfer you need to have an intense desire and love to get the ball into the hole. He goes on to say that from this distance (120 yards and in) you should always be thinking about holing it out. The best golfers do, and he's never known a great golfer who isn't obsessed with getting the ball into the hole.

Rotella writes,

A good golfer must not only accept the preeminence of the short game. He must learn to relish getting the ball into the hole, to love it as much or more than mere ball-striking...
For my professional players, 120 yards from the pin is a threshold distance. From within that range, I want them to be thinking about sinking the shot. The hole is their ultimate target....inside your threshold distance, don't just go for the middle of the green and don't just try to get it close. From inside your threshold distance, think about holing the shot.

Non golfers may read that and say, "Yeah? So? No shit. Isn't that the whole point of golf?" Exactly. That's why the idea haunts me.

Most golfers do not think like this. Sure, they would hope that the ball goes into the hole, but they're aiming for the green or, even worse, aiming not to put the ball in the trap, woods, or water. They will break a club if they get under it, top it, hook it, or slice it off the tee but don't think anything about missing the 8 foot putt for par.

This is one of the lessons in the book that has enormous applications outside of golf, as it's really a lesson in focus. Just like you might forget the only thing that is important on the course you often think about it when running a company, a team, or just working on a project. The more you focus on that one thing that matters and eliminate all the noise, the more successful you will be.

More importantly it shows the importance of what you need to focus on. A vague, broad, or non successful goal is not enough. You must set an ambitious north star - one that you are rather unlikely to reach. The OKR Framework accomplishes this well with stretch goals - setting your key results to levels that you could hit but are just beyond reach of what is likely.

A common criticism of stretch goals among OKR skeptics is "I don't like to set targets that we know we won't hit. I don't want to create a culture of complacency." I've always found the responses to this criticism somewhat lacking - ending up being some variation of "If you don't shoot for the moon, you won't land amongst the stars." Rotella's advice and application of these principles to golf both serves as further validation of how principles of the OKR framework drive peak performance as well as a great tangible example of why stretch goals work.