As a golfer and coach, I've been thrilled to watch the U.S. Open golf championship this week. I love the game, and have been privileged to coach some great players, so this tournament holds a special attraction for me. As many of you know, this is one of the few world championships that is literally open to all comers. If you can play golf, you can enter. Entering, however, does not guarantee victory!
At the start of a new century, more and more of us are functioning like professional golfers. Very few of us will spend our careers as a "team player" for a large corporation. More and more of us will be "free agents", competing from one contest to another, or contracting our services for the length of a project, to solve a problem, or for a limited period of time.
And that means we have to be at the top of our game all the time! That has never been necessary before. In the past, most people either worked on the farm or worked for a corporation where it was possible to have a bad month, or even a slow year, and still get by. Today, almost none of us have that luxury.
For more and more of us, the challenge is to hone our skills and show up, play a practice round, and then we get two days to show our stuff. If we aren't one of the best by Friday afternoon, we go home. No paycheck, no win, no glory! It's a wonderfully free, individualistic and exciting world, but it can also be brutally honest and ruthlessly humbling.
Fortunately, golfers have taught me a few tricks to increase the chances of being around for the weekend, getting that paycheck and the glory, on Sunday afternoon!
First, follow your talents! There has never been a time when it's been easier, or more important, to do what you love and what you are designed to do! My grandfather was a wonderful, remarkable man, who spent most of his working years as a laborer in a lumber yard. In many ways, I like to think those years of humbling, difficult work added to his greatness. But most of us no longer have to do work we are not suited for. Some golfers are born with incredible talent, while others earn their game with extraordinary dedication and hard work. And some should consider doing something else.
I am absolutely convinced that the road to greatness, wealth, and personal satisfaction lies in taking the path of least resistance. Follow your talents! Do what brings you joy! If you won the lottery, what would you do for fun? What are you passionate about? Do that.
Secondly, do it very, very well! And, that brings us back to hard work. Great golfers work incredibly hard. There's an ad on TV that talks about Steve Elkington getting up before sunrise every single morning to hit 100 balls from the tee, 100 from the fairway, 100 from the sand, and 100 putts, before he goes to work "playing" golf! If the first rule for greatness is "follow your talents", the second is, "become incredibly skilled".
There is no substitute for skill. In any profession, and in almost any situation, the top 20% will do well. If you know what you're doing, if you show up, if you get the job done, (and if you have a great coach!), sooner or later you'll win. If you don't love what you do enough to practice and develop your skills, ask yourself, "What's wrong?"
The third component is patience. During this U.S. Open competition, two people have caught the imagination of the crowds, Payne Stewart and Matt Kuchar. Payne has been around the PGA Tour for years. He won the Open and started strong a few years ago, but has had 7 dry years of traveling the world, practicing and waiting for his time to come again. And, he's done it all with a smile, a balance of cockiness and humility, and with patience. Now, "out of nowhere", he leads the Open! Think about those years in motel rooms, of missing cuts, of catching airplanes and eating restaurant food. Whether he wins or not, Payne has made an extraordinary statement these past several years that has been punctuated with a huge exclamation point this week!
The other name the crowds are chanting is, "Kuch!" for Matt Kuchar, the 20 year old amateur with the great smile. This kid has talent, skill, and while he's too young to really know about patience, he has the wisdom to know about humility. He's "just glad to be here!" Under the pressure, he missed some putts, but he's learning and he keeps on smiling. Talent, skill, and the patience to learn. This kid will do well!
Finally, super achievement involves the mystery we call "luck". I think it's important to say that out loud! Many motivational speakers focus only on their "secrets of success", claiming they have the "law" of money or the "law" of success on their side. Well. This week, Payne Stewart has had talent, skill, patience, and tons of incredible luck! His ball goes in the rough, but sits up! He hits a wild shot into a tree, and it bounces into the fairway! At the same time, Colin Montgomery, who many rank as the best player in the world, hits a great shot that lands in the worst divot on the fairway. Go figure.
By definition, you can't count on luck to make up for lack of talent or lack of preparation. And, there's no use blaming "bad luck" for poor choices or stubbornness or bad judgment. Success comes from acknowledging luck, then going about your business the best way you know how. Many people have been credited with the following quote, although I believe it was actually Ben Hogan who said it first: "Funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I get!"
To achieve remarkable things, follow your talents and passions, work extremely hard at something you love so much you just can't help yourself, be patient, and perserver. Lady luck shines most on those who work the hardest at what they do best!