Entrepreneur Lessons From a Golf Master

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A few weeks ago, Irish golf sensation Rory McIlroy did something amazing. Not only did he win a second major championship in the span of four weeks, but in so doing, he became the third youngest player ever to win four Majors (the others being Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.)

For me, the interesting thing is his recent resurgence. McIlroy won his first major when he was only 22, with a 16-under win at the U.S. Open in 2011, and then won the PGA Championship the next year by a record eight strokes.


“Boy Wonder” they called him. The “Next Big Thing” after Tiger.

And then he sputtered.

Since then, according to Yahoo, “McIlroy signed a megadeal with Nike and switched out all his equipment. He changed management for the second time, leading to lawsuits that are still to be decided.” He won no Majors in 2013, and then got engaged to tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki on New Year’s Eve of that year.

But in May of 2014, Rory broke off the engagement. He then promptly went on to win The British Open in July and then the U.S. Open in August.

According to USA TODAY, “After surging to the lead . . . at the PGA Championship, en route to his second consecutive major title, McIlroy was asked about the “major personal event” he went through earlier this year. It was suggested that McIlroy’s pre-wedding breakup with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki would have had an adverse effect on most people. You could call it the break-up blues. Clearly that hadn’t happened to McIlroy, who was in the midst of winning his third straight tournament and becoming the world’s best golfer. Why?

“Well, I think it has happened to me for the better. I’ve put a little bit more time into my golf and refocused me in a way. It’s the only thing not the only thing I have; I’ve got my family and my friends, but I just immersed myself in my game. I’ve practiced hard and I’ve done all the right things, and I’m reaping the rewards.”

There’s a lesson there my friends.

No, of course I am not suggesting that you break up with your significant other in order to succeed in your own chosen career, but what I do find analogous is that what happened to McIlroy is not unlike what happens to many small business people:

They get some success, and then they lose focus.

Think about it – when you start a new business, it is a total preoccupation. It is exciting and fun and overwhelming and exhausting. If you do it right, you put your whole heart and soul into it. And then, if you are lucky and good, you start to win, to succeed. Maybe you even land a big contract and thereby win, shall we say, a Major.

Later, what happens – if you are human – is that you probably rest a bit. Enjoy your success. Take some time off. You may even get some other business ideas and run with those for a while. That is all well and good and smart.

Until it is not.

Because what happens is that (if I may beat this sports analogy into the ground a little bit more), when you take your eye off the ball, you drop the ball, you strike out, you lose a client. The important thing therefore is to notice when your attention begins to lag and that you make a course correction.

A few weeks ago I ran into a colleague of mine while I was speaking at an event and I asked her how business was. She told me that she was having her best year ever. When I asked her why that was, she said, “You know Steve, I had a few great things going on business-wise, really fun things. But I realized that instead of doing a few things really well, I was actually doing too many things mediocrely. So I decided that I had to give up a couple of the other things and focus primarily on my core business. The results have been, frankly, spectacular.”

Sounds like she took a lesson from Rory McIlroy. And so that is today’s suggestion: Take a look at your business, reconfigure if necessary, and watch yourself sink in a birdie for the win.

Today’ Tip: The other thing I know about golf (and fair warning, taking golf cues from me is a bad call), is that the harder you try, the worse you tend to do. This especially relates to sales. Trying too hard to get the sale is a sure recipe for missing the cup.