This post originally appeared on Medium.
“Drive for show and putt for dough”
This famous maxim, familiar to all golfers and golf enthusiasts, was coined by Bobby Locke, a legendary PGA golfer and the first South African to win a major. In some ways, Locke’s saying is golf’s version of “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings”. The main idea is that it doesn’t really matter how far you hit the ball off the tee if you can’t finish it off with your putter.
And as summer approaches, another year of golf’s most exciting tournaments sit right around the corner. Just look at Dustin Johnson’s historic collapse at the 2015 U.S. Open last June – nothing in golf is crueler than traveling hundreds of yards in a few strokes only to pay the price in mere feet and inches on the green.
Unlike celebratory expressions such as “Nothing but net” however, golf’s “drive for show, putt for dough” isn’t just an external observation praising a sweet swing or a clean putt.
Instead, I think Locke’s saying can actually be construed as internal reinforcement, and a method for doing business.
Golf’s Shiniest Object
Driving the ball straight down the fairway (aka teeing off) is golf’s equivalent to an ace in tennis, or a slam dunk in basketball. Everyone can appreciate the loud sound the ball makes coming off the clubface, flying high into the air out of sight.
Done especially well, it is a movement worthy of admiration: with one swing, the ball rockets off the tee, soars into the air, and (if you’re Rory McIlroy, or Tiger Woods back in his prime) travels the length of three football fields before landing – hopefully – near the hole.
The drive is effectively golf’s version of the silverback male. Everyone, from novice to expert, is impressed by its raw power, its controlled aggression, and the precision with which pros power the ball to a pinpoint spot on the far away green.
While I was lucky enough to play competitive golf in college, I was unlucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of tall guys – which meant I was almost always the shortest golfer off the tee.
I can’t even count the number of times where I tried to suppress the thought that it would be a hell of a lot nicer to be down the fairway with the other guy who had casually hammered his ball a mile and half further than me. Man, I thought to myself, the game would be so much easier if only I could hit the ball further.
Serious golfers spend fortunes on the latest drivers. They commit hours and hours of practice at the driving range in the hope of extending their reach just a few feet. Crowds ooh and aah admiringly when they see a massive 300-yard thwack from the tee. Why wouldn’t they?
Yet, even if drive competitions are televised, the championships, the golfing careers, and ultimately the all-important pay-checks are usually won or lost with putting. If a golfer really wants to lower his handicap, he’d reallocate that driver money to better putters, and more discipline practicing around the green.
Whereas envy is measured in yards (the measure of drives), legends are made in the game of inches, i.e., in putting. This is why I think “drive for show, putt for dough” is a mantra for business.
It is a way to remind one what really matters. It is a way to avoid the noise, the obvious distractions, the easy comparisons. It is way to achieve mastery and success without being the loudest, most impressive person in the room.
An Adage To Live By
Far from being just about a golfing tip, “drive for show, putt for dough” can easily be seen as an analogy for life, and is especially apt for business.
Every day, we are surrounded by the things that feel like they matter. These are the equivalent to the long drive. Your instinct tells you they matter. It tells you need to do that in order to be good, to be successful and get recognition.
But, in reality, they aren't actually what will help you win. They may feel good. They may look good to others. They may even make you look good to others.
But it isn't what makes you look good to others that will make the difference.
It is those things that aren’t sexy, aren’t surface level, those things that are the game of inches that will make your legend. It comes down to the time you spend perfecting the little things on your own, while everyone else watches the big attention-drawing show.
So my advice – and something I work on daily and credit for our successes – is to stow your driver and find the things in your area of business that are ‘the putt for dough’.
I'm the CEO of NextCustomer, creators of leading summits for future industries and platforms.
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