I spent 6 hours on the golf course yesterday!  I’d tell you I “golfed”, but that would be lying.  What I did would not be considered golf by most people, although I did swing the club a lot.  In fact, I lost 10 balls in those 6 hours, and thankfully, since it was a best ball format for the tournament, none of those balls that I lost ever mattered!  What did matter was that one of our group always put it in the fairway off the tee (never me obviously), and because we were in a good position to hit our second shot, we typically were on the green in regulation and thus putting for birdies.  We ultimately ended up at -9 for the round, which was comfortably in the top half of the tournament, but nowhere near the winning score.  I believe the winning score was -13 or -14, and at least two other teams were at -11.

We had 28 full teams for the tournament, with a shotgun start to kick it off.  Because of the number of teams, every hole had at least one foursome at the start, and since many had two, there was a lot of time for pondering and partnering (golf is after all the ultimate place to do business).  In our foursome, we had one avid golfer (120 rounds last year) with a low handicap.  We also had one good golfer but not avid (likes to play but can’t get out a lot).  And then we had two whackers, who probably would never really be called golfers by anyone who really knows and likes the game.  I was obviously one of the whackers.

As I watched our foursome, we quickly fell into a routine and an order.  The avid golfer had a range finder, so every shot started with an estimated yardage to the point where we wanted the ball to end up.  He would relay that yardage to the rest of us, and based on that yardage, we would all pull out our clubs.  Our club selection would be very different, but we’d all fairly quickly decide which club and get ready to hit.  With clubs in hand, the two of us that had the most challenge hitting the ball went first and then the two that were good golfers went last.  If by some miracle, one of the first two of us hit it long and straight, then the other two had freedom to wail on the ball and see how far they could hit it.  If the two of us going first both went into the woods (that happened quite frequently), the last two needed to be just a bit less aggressive on their shots to make sure we had one playable and preferably in the fairway.  This routine and rotation worked fairly well for us, as you can tell from our score.

Though each of us was very different in our ball striking capabilities, we all went through a very similar decision process when selecting clubs.  Four things played into the selection:

  1. Range – each of us knew how far we could hit any particular club, so picking the right club based on the range was easy
  2. Wind – if the wind was against us we went down a club or two…if the wind was behind us, we went up a club or two
  3. Hazard – if sand or water were close to our landing spot, we’d potentially take a club higher to take the hazard out of play (although I would typically hit into it anyway) or even lay up so we wouldn’t get that far
  4. Immediate Past Performance – if the first hitters were out of play or in bad positions, our final hitters might change their club to better guarantee a playable shot

The time to decide on which club to hit was directly proportional to the number of issues that came into play.  On every shot, range was an issue, but club selection was very easy if range was the sole issue.  On many of the holes, wind and hazards were issues.  And on a handful of holes, wind, hazards, and immediate past performance were all issues.  The time to select a club would go from single digit seconds up to a couple of minutes as the number of issues grew. 

In the end, as our -9 score would attest, we did a decent job of selecting clubs and striking the ball (as a team), but decent wasn’t good enough to win this tournament.  At least one other team was obviously exceptional at it!

As you might have figured out from my fairly in depth discussion of decision making in golf, I can’t help but compare it to business.  We do the same thing in business – determine the range, get the environmental conditions, identify the hazards, and learn from immediate past performance.  With that data, we make decisions and execute shots.  Just like in golf, the number of issues and the severity of each issue greatly affects the decision making process.

Good companies just like good golfers assess each factor, select the right club, and execute the right shot.  Great companies do this decisively!

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