The Golf Doctor

How to succeed in business--on the course and off

By Dr. Bob Rotella

One of the great things about playing a round of golf with someone is you find out what that person is like. How people play the game and handle its many challenges (mental as well as physical) can tell you a lot about whether they're comfortable with themselves. That's why I believe golf is such a valuable business tool.

A lot of business executives think they have to be a good player to reap the benefits, but that's not the case. If you're new to the game and playing in an annual company tournament, an outing with the boss, or a round with a client, there's no reason why you can't enjoy the experience. Most important: Trust yourself and your personality. Don't worry whether you're a good player. Relax and enjoy the time with coworkers and business associates.

The worst thing you can do is to pretend to be a good golfer when you're not. The people you're playing with are going to evaluate your personality -- not your golf game. Are you an enjoyable person to spend four to five hours with? If you're not a good player, accept that you're not and know that it's not a big deal. On these pages I present my principles to help you achieve success on the golf course and in the workplace.


Nothing stymies a person's ability to play golf well or excel in business more than fear. To be successful you have to get past the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, and the fear of ridicule. When you step onto the course, play to play great. Don't play not to fail. Often, when golfers struggle it's because they're waiting for something bad to happen. They notice the bad breaks and none of the good bounces. If you have to fail to become great, so be it. However, it's amazing how much you can achieve when you're not worried about failing. The same idea applies in business. An optimistic attitude is a feeling that wonderful things are going to happen to you throughout your career.

One potentially fearful situation that a lot of business executives face is playing with the boss or an important client. What should you do? Should you let your boss or the client win? In general, I would say no. If I'm going to play with the boss and I'm a better player, I'm still going to play my game and hope it's a enjoyable and equitable match. However, when the round is over, if I shot lower than he did, I win and he loses. If you're afraid to beat someone because that person can't handle it, you probably don't want to be doing business with that person anyway.


I spend a lot of time talking to tour pros about living in the present. This means stop judging how you're doing and predicting how you're going to do. Instead of thinking about what you need to shoot on a hole to break a scoring goal, play one shot at a time. If you have that state of mind the entire round, you have a better chance at success.

A lot of underachieving tour players have the attitude they'll be good players when they get a perfect swing, a perfect putting stroke, and hone all of their skills. What they're really doing is justifying the fact that they don't think they're ready to play well. A lot of people in the business do the same thing. They put off making the big deal or taking their business to the next level. Sometimes people just wait forever, and the next thing they know they're 75 years old. At some point you have to say: "I know what I need to do to succeed. Now I have to believe I can do it."


Don't try to impress people with your game. What tour pros tell me they dislike the most about playing in pro-ams is a partner who spends the entire round trying to convince the tour pro that he's way better than he really is. The person claims to be a 3-handicapper, and he's playing like an 18. You can't fake it, so don't try to impress the tour pro. He just wants to have a good time, and he wants you to enjoy the round, too. He doesn't have any idea how to run a bank or a financial firm or whatever it is you do for a living. But he respects you for having passion for your work. So relax.

In business, the image you have of yourself in your occupation is going to play a crucial role in how patient and persistent you are. If you see yourself as being successful at what you do, it becomes easy to be patient and persistent because in the long run you know you're going to excel. If you have a lot of doubt and fear that you're not going to be successful, then you tend not to be patient or persistent. Instead, you have this dread inside you. That's why it's important that you feel destined to do something fantastic in your golf game and career.

I also tell tour players to have a feeling and belief about themselves that they're the best at what they do. They have to admire their game more than anybody else's. It's the same for business executives. To succeed it's important to love your talent, your company, and your role within the company.

I tell golfers not to hit a putt until they imagine the ball going in the hole. Similarly, if you're going to make a sales pitch to a client, I want you to believe the client is going to say yes. If you have a negative feeling or attitude, it will affect your presentation.


I remember two executives at a large hospital were interviewing a heart surgeon, and they took him to play golf. The heart surgeon wasn't playing well, and on the 12th hole he got really upset and lost his temper. The executives decided not to hire him because they thought his behavior on the course was a reflection of how he might react under pressure in the operating room. That may not always be the case, but there's a good chance that if you lose your temper playing golf, you'll lose it doing other things. And if you treat your caddie lousy, you'll likely treat your employees lousy. And if you cheat at golf, you might cheat at life. My advice is keep your cool and act like a professional.


A golfer might succeed and get better by outworking everybody else. After that, it becomes who can get in the quality practice and who can become more efficient. That also applies to executives. After a few years you learn how your business works. To get better you have a choice: You can either work 15-hour days, or you can become more efficient. Highly successful people become very efficient. They increase the quality instead of the quantity. They become better strategists rather than workaholics. They learn to focus on what they're doing. They get past the interruptions that distract other people. It's the same way with golfers. They make sure they spend ample time practicing the clubs they use most. A good golfer may love to hit 5-irons, but he knows he has to learn to have fun practicing the clubs that are going to help him score, like the putter and wedges. Similarly, people who do well in business figure out where to focus their time and how they can best contribute to the company's growth and success.


A lot of deals are made on the golf course, but most good players would rather play golf when it's time to play golf and talk business afterward. If you're going to talk business during a round, there's a time and place to do it. The best time to talk business is after everyone has hit their tee shots until it is the first person's turn to hit a second shot. After everyone has hit their approach shots, it's O.K. to talk business until you get to the green. Remember, the 20 seconds before a person hits a shot until the ball hits the ground is a sacred moment. And if you enjoy needling your partner, wait until after he hits his shot.

A lot of golfers love to bet. The only thing I would tell business people is don't bet such a large amount that it gets emotional and begins to affect human relations. Keep it a small wager so everyone feels comfortable, win or lose. A $2 or $5 nassau is plenty.


I'm always reminding my business clients that golfers have to commit to seeing the ball go toward the target or a putt go into the hole even though more than half the time it doesn't. Even the best players in the world with unbelievable talent and skill fail. Once they get outside six feet on the putting green, tour players miss more than they make. The challenge is to keep seeing it go in the hole regardless of the result. People in business should think the same way. Approach each day in a great state of mind. Love the challenge of what you do. Accept the fact that everybody who is successful has been rejected. Have the mind-set that the person who told you "No" thinks he's rejecting you, but you're going to go back until you get what you want. Call it patience. Call it persistence. But you have to be more committed to getting that person to say "yes" than he is to rejecting you.

Years ago at the Byron Nelson tournament in Irving, Tex., Tom Kite and I were having lunch with a teaching pro from Texas who had two young students qualify for the event. He said his guys were really nervous because they hadn't played with anyone really good. Kite said what they should do is walk up to the best guys on tour and say, "I'd love to play a practice round with you," and then go play a round when they're willing to play. But they would have to begin by having the guts to ask. Similarly, business executives should seek out the greats in their industries and ask them out to dinner. Listen and get ideas about how to succeed.


Golfers have had to adjust to the changing technology of golf equipment -- better golf balls and larger, hotter drivers. People in business have to change and adapt, too. There are fundamentals you don't change, because they're crucial to success. There are other areas of your business that you have to adjust to and change as the business climate and world evolves.

I remember Kite telling a former tour pro years ago that when he was new on tour, a lot of players who missed the cut went home. But Kite stayed and practiced. He got up early in the morning to use the practice facility. Then he'd go out in the afternoon and follow the guys in the last two groups Saturday and Sunday. The former tour pro looked at Kite and said, "Wow, nobody ever told me to do that. I wish someone had." Kite said nobody told him, either. He said he just figured it out for himself.


If you've never played in a company outing or an annual tournament, don't let your inexperience intimidate you. There are things you can do to prepare. First, if you don't own golf clubs, buy a set. You don't have to buy the most expensive brand. Your local golf shop should have a good selection of beginner sets. Second, if you don't have a U.S. Golf Association Handicap Index, you should consider getting one. A Handicap Index allows golfers of different abilities to play fair and equitable matches. Visit for more information. In the interim, you can also establish a free Golf Digest Handicap by visiting Third, if you've been invited to play at a coworker's club, find out who's paying the green fees, what type of clothing is appropriate, if tipping is required for caddies, locker room attendants or other club employees, and how much is appropriate. Finally, ask what time you should arrive. Nothing is worse for your golf swing, or your business mind than to be late. When you're comfortably on time, you can relax and you can think straight. And that's when you perform your best.

Reknowned sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella teaches athletes and business leaders how to use their minds to reach the top of their professions. In addition to being a consultant to more than 20 PGA Tour players, Rotella has given motivational speeches to corporations such as Merrill Lynch, General Electric, and Coca-Cola.

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