A great deal has been written during this golfing season on the abilities of many young golfers such as Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, and Rory McIlroy on the PGA tour and the international golf circuit.  By winning The Open Championship at Liverpool this past month (and maintaining his number one rank since then), Rory McIlroy has positioned himself to become one of a few select golfers to win Four Major Championships in professional golf.

This caused my thoughts to turn to a golfer who accomplished more than anyone else has accomplished in golf at so young an age…Robert Tyre Jones Jr….better known as Bobby Jones.

Bobby Jones was the only golfer in history to win the Grand Slam of golf which, in 1930, consisted of The U.S. Open, The British Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the British Amateur in the same season.  He accomplished this at age 28.  He was revered by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews because he won so many British Open titles.  And St. Andrews is, by all accounts, considered to be the birthplace and origin of golf.

The movie Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius was released a few years ago as a tribute to Bobby Jones’s life and his work in establishing Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters Golf Tournament, a Major on the PGA Tour.  The movie does a great job detailing his life in golfing, his love for and devotion to his wife Mary (which caused him to give up tournament golf), his chaotic relationship with professional golfer Walter Hagen, his friendship with Atlanta Journal sports writer O. B. Keeler, and his desire to remain an amateur in the face of intense pressure to become a professional golfer.

What does all of this have to do with project management, you ask?  Well, bear with me.  There are two points to be made here…both extremely relevant to you as a project manager.

In an early scene in the movie when Bobby Jones is being “thrashed” by the deep bunkers and the high winds of the old course at St. Andrews, Bobby Jones turns to his caddy and says “I hate this course.  Who designed this course?”

“A glacier 15,000 years ago,” remarked his caddy.  “The winds are so strong today even the crows are walking.”

In a scene late in the movie, after Jones has tamed the St. Andrews course many time, he tees off for yet another tournament at the old course and says “I love this course.”  What was different?  Same deep bunkers, same windy conditions.

Learning.  Learning how to deal with the elements and the layout of the course and the context of your game is essential to mastering a discipline, whether it is project management or golf. 

When I worked for ConocoPhillips, there was a well-told story that never got old.  In ConocoPhillips’s attempts to drill for and produce oil in the North Sea, the weather condition were often so bad, with extremely heavy wind and rain, that many experienced engineers often said that condition were too bad to work.

Undaunted by the challenge, Phillips Petroleum CEO C. J. (“Pete”) Silas was quoted as saying “We can’t stop now.  We have to learn to work in the rain.”

Similarly, in another scene from the movie, Jones and Keeler are waiting in a train station for a train back to Atlanta after Jones had been narrowly defeated in a major golf tournament.  Although dejected by this loss, Jones realizes that even the loss is valuable, remarking to Keeler that “I just realized that I never really learned anything from those tournaments I won.

Sometimes we are so busy focusing on what went wrong, we don’t see the opportunity in what went right.  This applies to golf as well as to project management.

So, what does this all mean to you as a project manager?  It means that, from this day forward, you have an opportunity to learn and get better at your chosen discipline.  You might be the Bobby Jones of your discipline or you might aspire to be like Bobby Jones.

Every new “golf course” and every past experience is an OPPORTUNITY to grow and learn and share and prosper.

Good golfing!!!!!




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