Surpassing Setbacks: What I Learned From Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth found himself in a playoff. Just moments before, he was leading the 2017 Travelers Championship Tournament and just needed to finish strong. As he gathered himself and focused on his tee shot, he attempted to clear a tall tree and instead hit the tree, which yielded a fortunate bounce into the fairway. He could have been wondering what happened – not only on this shot but the shots and holes that forced him into this playoff hole. Why did he hit the tree? Why couldn’t he finish the deal? What was happening?

It’s in these moments that we truly discover what we are made of! Character, grit, and resiliency are refined in the midst of setbacks and struggles. We can either become determined or disillusioned, and it only takes a moment to tilt the balance of confidence one way or the other.

In the midst of challenges in sports, business, and life, here are at least 3 things that we must do to accomplish the goal:

  • Clarify the Goal – When something happens that you did not expect and “perfection” is not achieved, you can tend to react with dismay and disillusionment, because your expectations are misguided. You try to control the outcome of everything you do and forget that there will be moments where you are less than perfect. You press in to control, which leads to being tight, tense, and terse. This is not the way to win a golf tournament, lead your team, or accomplish your goals. It is in these moments that you need to reassess and clarify the goal. For Jordan Spieth, the goal was to win the playoff hole and the tournament…not hit every golf shot perfectly, and he re-focused his energy and effort appropriately to achieve this goal instead of worrying about past failures, which he could not change.
  • Simplify the Process – Especially in moments of strife, I often tell my golfers (and other athletes) the following mantra: “Sometimes, it’s just about getting from point A to point B to point C.” In other words, when things are not going your way, simplify the process to achieve the goal. If a certain part of your game is not going right, play to your strengths and what is going well for you on that particular day. Don’t overanalyze what is not working and why. Also, consistently ask: What am I trying to accomplish? This question can help you get back on task and on target. Finally, be present and process-focused which should lead to the best result you can achieve on a certain day.
  • Stay Engaged – When a bad moment happens, the result can shift our attitude into a superlative mindset. “I can’t hit my driver.” “I never play well in these situations.” “The people I lead don’t listen to me.” “I will never accomplish my goals.” I have a superlative rule that I use with my athletes and business leaders that I coach comprised of a superlative: Never use superlatives to describe your performance or limit your potential. Stay engaged and dedicated to the process with energy and effort. Anything can happen even in the midst of challenging circumstances, and you must live your life with a possibility mindset.

So what happened next for Jordan? After hitting the tree on his tee shot, Jordan sprayed his approach shot into the sand trap next to the green. Daniel Berger, his opponent, hit his shot onto the fringe of the green but far away from the hole. This hole was not going according to plan for Spieth. Or, was it? Jordan had hit a great up and down shot out of the bunker on the 18th hole just moments before to save par and assure this playoff hole. The reality was that he had confidence hitting out of the sand – a place that no one wants to land – and he just needed to be present in this moment and hit a great golf shot.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan assessed the situation, developed a strategy, and visualized his shot as he grabbed the appropriate club for this moment. He trusted his shot and the ball lifted out the sand trap and softly bounced on the green and rolled into the hole. He tossed the winning golf club out of the bunker and chest bumped his caddy, as the crowd cheered in excitement and amazement!

An incredible shot that ultimately won the tournament for him!  In the article “Why Jordan Spieth’s Tee Shots Didn’t Matter,” the Wall Street Journal chronicled his day in this way:

“The result was Spieth’s 10th victory at the age of 23. Since World War II, only Tiger Woods got to double-digit wins at a younger age….The lesson isn’t that power off the tee doesn’t matter, or that it matters less than what a player does on and around the green. It’s that there is more than one way to win in golf, and to lose….There is no disadvantage that can’t be countered by enough excellence in other parts of the game. Especially if you can hole a bunker shot in a sudden-death playoff.

Whatever your role and your goals, there is a lot we can learn from the example of Jordan Spieth’s tournament victory including playing to your strengths, developing a growth and possibility mindset, and staying focused on the right perspective and process to achieve success and impact even in the midst of a temporary setback.

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