Grace in the Face of Defeat

This might not seem like a business-themed post, so bear with me.  If you’re a golfer, or even a sports fan, then you are no doubt aware of what transpired at The Masters last weekend.  If you’re not much of a fan of golf, then here’s a brief recap: 22-year-old golf wunderkind Jordan Spieth, the 22-year-old defending champion from Dallas, was poised to make history.  With nine holes left to play, young Jordan led the tournament by five strokes.  He had birdied the last four holes of the front nine to take a commanding lead, and appeared to be on auto-pilot.  Not only did his title defense seem imminent, but he was about to set a historical precedent in the tournament that he won last year by four shots: not only would he be only the fourth player to ever successfully defend his Masters green jacket, but he would also be the youngest.  Beyond that, he would also be the first player in the modern era of golf to ever lead a major championship wire-to-wire two years in a row.

It seemed that every member of the media was preparing their stories about this amazing young man…even after he bogeyed the difficult #10 & #11 holes.  Then the inexplicable happened (as it so often does on golf’s biggest stages): instead of hitting the safe tee shot to the middle of the green that he and his caddie Michael Greller agreed upon, Jordan decided at the last moment before he swung that he would go flag-hunting instead.  He then dunked his tee shot on the devilish par-three 12th hole in the creek fronting the green.    He then took a penalty drop in a place where he had less than a full shot to the green, and hit what was perhaps the worst shot of his professional career, a fat half-wedge that didn’t even clear the pond.  A few minutes later, Jordan made a quadruple-bogey 7, and now found himself the pursuer to eventual champion Danny Willett of England.

In the space of 30 minutes, Jordan’s seemingly insurmountable 5-shot lead turned into a 3-shot deficit.  He gamely collected himself and made birdies on #13 & #15, but it wasn’t enough.  Danny Willett played brilliant golf down the stretch with the lead, and won his first major title a few days after the birth of his first child.  Within minutes of completing his round, Jordan Spieth than had to face the world in two separate time-honored ceremonies in which, as the defending champion, he had to place the coveted green jacket on this year’s champion, first with CBS cameras rolling, and then in another ceremony on the 18th green.

An old maxim states that you can tell a lot more about the character of a person when they lose then when they win.  Through Jordan’s incredible 2015 season, in which he became the #1-ranked player in the world, all we really saw of Jordan was winning, and he did it with class and dignity.  We learned quite a bit about this kid from Dallas in the process: how he has stayed humble, how he still hangs with his old high school friends, and how he is a devoted family man that dotes on his young sister who has Down’s syndrome.  But we never really got to see how Jordan Spieth would handle himself after a crushing defeat…until now.  After the tournament, when many of us would have climbed under a rock of some sort and declined to speak about an experience only hours old, without really having any time to process what exactly had just happened, Jordan stood in front of reporters and answered every question.  Yes, he was disappointed, and he admitted that he let a historical opportunity slip away.  Still, he was gracious in his praise of the winner.

jordan and danny

Yesterday, his caddie Michael Greller made a public statement, which is right here: Jordan Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller reflects on 2016 Masters in Facebook post.

In business, and especially in sales, we don’t always win.  In fact, in business and golf, we probably lose more than we win.  Still, we can all learn something from Jordan’s approach to this devastating loss at the tournament that he led for 137 holes before the bottom fell out.  Among these lessons, we can see that we always need to except blame, instead of blaming someone/something else.  We can also be gracious to the people that gave us an opportunity to compete, and we can take the hard lessons learned and apply them to our next opportunity.

Golf, like life, is all about how we deal with repeated setbacks, and how we can change our processes/approach to become a stronger person the next time we’re faced with a similar event.  Even when we don’t win, people are looking to us to set an example of why they agreed to engage with us in the first place.  Failure happens, but it doesn’t have to be the end of our stories.  Go back, re-assess what happened, find out where your weaknesses were in self-evaluation and in speaking with members of your team, and vow to become stronger from the experience.  In golf and in life, there is always another tournament to be played.