Agusta Golf Course - Golf Didn't Love Me Back

Golf Didn’t Love Me Back

The Masters offers an annual opportunity to admire a sport at a level unattainable to all but a highly skilled few. I love the game of golf and to watch it played well. Truth is, golf is a cruel game. It demands consistent and perfect contact with the ball and a freedom of thought and movement that eludes most. It took me a while to accept golf just didn’t love me as I did the game. The Masters, played in an idyllic golf Disneyland at the legendary Augusta, is far removed from the rigor and grind of weekend golf.

It’s not the same as the distance between a pick-up basketball game and the NBA. Why? Because we are led to believe that the tools of golf used by the pros on TV are available to the masses. Moreso than just needing a ball and a great pair of kicks in basketball, access to golf requires money and facilities (courses and range), the accessories of the game, and, more than anything, time.

As an adult, I bought into the golf complex, thinking I could improve my game to at least a better level. I had learned incompletely and incorrectly how to swing a club and move around a 9-hole municipal course as a teenager. I recognized at the time that many kids had learned golf at an even younger age. It turns out that’s pretty important.

During my time in the Navy, golf was mostly on the back burner. I did one tour in Monterey, CA, and attempted to play golf a few times a month amid the obligations of school and raising young children. My game was weak and I wasn’t competing with anyone.

Flash ahead to my post-active-duty life and I thought, “I want to get better at this.” I invested heavily: time, lessons, Golf-Tec, clubs (many), walking carts, GPS watches (several), range finders (more than one), balls of all brands, golf club fitting (yes, that’s a thing), golf club memberships, and did I say time? Golf is extraordinarily time-consuming. Not too different from the training time associated with preps to run a marathon, but the costs are much more, and the race of golf is never won. It’s really never even run. It just keeps demanding that you try harder.

An injury to my back, unrelated to golf but born of a once ill-fated attempt to move a yard shed single-handedly, flared up during hurricane preps in 2017. It forced me to step back from golf. Months went by, and my back got better, but my desire to return to the weekend golf pursuit faded. I was recognizing that I was not even enjoying the experience. Coming home frustrated with poor performance after golf was a drag. Boating was much more satisfying—by a wide margin.

I admitted to myself I pretty much suck at golf, and the game doesn’t love me the way I love it.

One of my favorite lines from a well-intended friend coaching me on the range after I asked, “Tom, why isn’t this coming to me?” He said matter-of-factly, “Well, at some point, it’s about athleticism.” Former baseball players and hockey players are generally excellent golfers. I was neither of those. I was a swimmer in High School; pretty good, but that’s not golf or even a racquet sport.

Let it go.

On reflection, the best amateur golfers I know learned the game very young, had professional help to guide them, and have particular naturally athletic abilities of eye-hand coordination. I was playing golf in a very mechanical way—it’s meant to be played with a much more natural flow that has enough technical correctness that the player’s abilities assure perfect ball contact nearly every time.

Even the best players I know or have come across will never in their lifetimes play in The Masters. It’s just too far removed.

Why am I taking you on this painful and personal journey with me?

Because when you follow the Early Bird and daily news cycle of where your next government contract may come from, you’re buying into the same sort of information complex—one that would have you believe that every opportunity and announcement is within your reach.

The Small Business Administration, and the entire SBA apparatus, is akin to the golf complex that is ready to dress you, fit you for clubs, sell you a club membership, outfit you with the correct ball for your swing speed, and otherwise logo you up for the game. At least golf PGA-certified instructors know the game of golf. Sadly, most SBA officials lack serious business credentials. They have not walked in your shoes, and they cannot take you to the promised land.

Success engaging in “public sector” sales, where a government customer buys your stuff, takes expertise. I’ve identified this before that expertise is not experience. It’s not time on station. It’s not reading and interpreting the FAR.

Unlike expertise in professional golf that stems from a combination of natural abilities, early introduction, and careful tutelage by a dedicated coach, you really can play in the equivalent of The Masters in Federal Sales. Choose your sports analogy: World Series, Superbowl, WNBA All-Star—you have access to the highest level of the federal sales playing field, and you don’t have to buy into all the extraneous logos to participate.

You just need a well-formulated plan, a coherent and compelling message, a solution to an agreed problem, and an understanding of the policies and budget decisions that drive the sale.

Admittedly, that’s a lot. But it is within your reach. It is learnable, understandable, and repeatable for those who are capable of acknowledging they may need the support of a coach, guide, or counselor to check their work along the way.

My work exposes me to companies of all sizes. Large international brands with international sales, large US companies operating in free-and-open competition, smaller companies that aspire and are breaking through the small business threshold, and startups in their early stages of formulating internal policies to catch up with their meteoric rise in revenue and headcount. The common thread that runs through each is a level of professionalism, allowing them to acknowledge the need to continually work on the team.

Developing talent, teaching, learning, engaging customers, reading, and exposing themselves to new ideas are essential ingredients of public sector success. My recent Meet the Ringmasters session in Sarasota, FL brought all of these ingredients together for a dozen highly motivated leaders of companies of all sizes. They play in the public sector at the highest level. You can, too.

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