Redefining Golf Success: To Win or Not to Win

alexander levy

How many golf tournaments have you won? Do you consider yourself a successful golfer?

Success is an interesting concept in the world of sport. Often we measure success in wins and losses. Basically, most golfers think a win is golf success and “not winning” as a failure. But only one golfer wins in a tournament; does that mean every other golfer failed?

Take a minute to consider an example from the business world… there has been a longstanding competition between Coke and Pepsi for over 100 years. Most people consider these two mega-corporations as immensely successful. But if you were to apply that win-loss mentality to measure their success, only one company would be considered successful by that standard. Their revenue statistics for 2014 are as follows: Coke had revenue of 47 billion while Pepsi generated revenue of 66 billion. Would you consider the Coca-Cola Company not successful? In actuality, Coca-Cola had an outstanding year increasing revenue by two percent… that amounts to an increase of almost one billion dollars. That is pretty successful!

Two problems with defining success by tournament wins:

  1. It causes you to disregard personal improvements in your game – When you strictly equate success with winning, anything but winning becomes failure. “Winning is everything” crushes your confidence and causes you to negate any improvement or success on the golf course. It is small successes over time that eventually lead to greater results.
  1. It distracts you from maintaining your game focus – When you focus primarily on the possible results of a tournament, it blocks you from focusing on what you need to do in the moment. Focusing is a critical skill in golf. Since it is impossible to focus on two things simultaneously, you are either focused on playing your current shot or focused on something that distracts you from playing optimally. The honest reality is that YOU get to choose where you place your focus.

Focus for  Golf Success

Focusing on success requires that you immerse yourself in the process. Focusing on the potential outcome, actually decreases the chances of that outcome occurring. Focusing on an unknown, the possible result of a tournament, creates pressure and anxiety.

Let’s use a real-life example to see the relationship between the unknown and anxiety… You are in bed late at night and you hear a noise in the house. Your heart pounds as you cautiously investigate the unknown noise. You fear the worst. You are anxious and on edge because you don’t know what you might find. Even when you find out that it was just your cat bumping into a table, it still takes you a while to calm down.

The fear of the unknown, or the outcome of a tournament, can wreak havoc on your mind and quickly ruin your golf game. Be honest, have you ever played your best golf when you were stressed and nervous? Probably not… so don’t choose to place yourself in that mindset.

What could you focus on instead of outcomes? What is the most effective mindset for playing your best golf? The answer is focusing on the process, one shot at a time. Take care of your business on the course. Focus on your strategy for each hole, the stroke of your club, reading the greens, etc. When you focus on the job-at-hand, you are more likely to perform better because you are paying attention to things that will help you golf optimally. If you perform better, your score will improve. If your score improves, you will put yourself in a better position to win tournaments. The end is a result of optimal shots over the course of a round, so don’t give shots away worrying about what might happen.

Patrick Reed: Focused on Improvement

Patrick Reed, ranked No. 14 in the world, has achieved five top-10 finishes in his last seven tournaments but hasn’t won a tournament since the 2015 Hyundai Tournament of Champions back in January. Recently, Reed forced a playoff with Kristoffer Broberg at the 2015 BMW Masters but lost when Broberg birdied the playoff hole. If you were to asses Reed’s season according to tournament wins, you may conclude that his season has been a failure.

Reed feels he is edging closer and closer to victory

REED: “It was a solid week and I just have to build on it and do things just a little bit better to get in the winner’s circle.”

Even though Reed has yet to hoist the trophy, he has given himself credit for his consistent play on the European Tour this season.

REED:  That’s I think five of my last seven events I finished inside the Top-10 five times. It’s a definite improvement. Obviously it shows the things I’m working on are getting better because last year it seemed like I started off strong with a win but kind of was flat throughout the rest of the year until this end run.”

By focusing on the process, doing things right, not worrying about outcomes and plugging along, Reed is putting him in position to contend for tournaments.

REED: “All you can ask for is to have a chance come down late on Sunday and I’ve put myself in that position quite a bit recently and unfortunately haven’t gotten in the winner’s circle. It hurts, but at the same time, I know what I’m working on right now is definitely the right thing because I’m moving in the right direction. Just have to close one out.

Shoot for Excellence

Every golfer wants to win. Shooting for victory is part of competition. But your ultimate competition is within yourself, playing better than you played before. If you focus on the process, you will, without a doubt, improve your overall score. Success focuses on personal excellence. Success is the result of what you do, but victory is dependent upon the entire field of competition. If you focus on excellence and improvement, you can be successful without winning.

Shooting for excellence is a “present moment” mindset that focuses on the challenges immediately in front of you. If you focus your attention on beating those challenges and give it your best effort, then you have succeeded.

ACTION DRILL: 3 Effective Strategies to Ensure Golf Success

Strategy #1: Find a better way to measure success. Success is personal, so find some measure that is meaningful to you (Improving your putting game, staying positive after a bad shot, achieving a certain score). When you define what success is for you, it is easier to find those little successes that occur throughout a tournament.

Strategy #2: Focus on the process. Success or personal excellence, is a process-oriented journey. What can I do right now? The “present moment” mindset understands that outcomes are a collection of “now moments.” If you take care of the “now,” the outcome will take care of itself.

Strategy #3: Strive for Excellence. The pursuit of personal excellence is an ongoing process and commitment to daily improvement. Excellence promotes growth because you are focused on what you need to do at THIS moment and growth, ultimately leads to high-performance. When you strive for excellence, you can more effectively deal with mistakes. You understand that mistakes can further develop your golf game and take you to the next level. When you are focused on winning, you interpret mistakes as evidence that you stink at golf which cause frustration and destroy your confidence. 

I guess the BIG question you need to ask yourself is, would you rather win or fulfil your potential as a golfer. If you merely want to win, seek out low-level tournaments. Your game will remain average but you may have some trophies to place on a shelf to collect dust. If you want to fulfil your potential as a golfer, challenge yourself and seek to grow your game by seeking out opportunities to achieve true success… personal excellence.