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2018: 365 mulligans

It is a game for fools, this golf, some say.

For why hit a ball then run after it, or try to find it, if one can? Maybe a game for the visually impaired even, for why would you, branded golfing attire and all, swing and miss a sitting, motionless, defenseless ball?

But a game for fools, golf is not. What it is, is that it compels honesty in men, weaves friendship among strangers, and for five hours, pushes for individual achievement and candid praise for others’ performance. A few have written about golf’s valuable life lessons. At the risk of giving away what I have been doing this Christmas break, please let me put in my own reflections on the sometimes bizarre but game-changing lessons from the game that tames a wild man, and brings the strongest one to his knees.

Learn to laugh at yourself, especially when others are laughing at you

It’s not so much about maturity as it is about immediately stopping the embarrassment from a really bad shot by laughing with the group, and unwittingly increase the camaraderie. It is also the fastest route to acceptance and moving on.

We were playing with a top executive of a PwC client (let’s call him “Boss”) along with our colleague from PwC US (let’s call him “Bruce”). They both had (more than) a few drinks the night before. Boss’ ball got trapped sideways in the bunker (or sand trap). He took a big, flat, and almost horizontal swing at the ball and completely missed. His momentum made him turn 360 degrees and he fell flat on his back. I was shocked and held my breath to hold my laughter, until Bruce laughed loudly at the fallen “Boss.” He got up, began laughing at himself too. Then I started laughing and couldn’t stop.

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In business, they do not really laugh at your mistakes, but they know if you made one. Sometimes, the easiest way to move on is to skirt the feeling of embarrassment, accept, and not give your mistake more importance than the learning you gain from it. In the case of the “Boss” above, it is: if you drink, don’t drive, or don’t think you can hit a sideway lie (i.e. the golf ball in sideway position).

Practice doesn’t make perfect; but practice still so that not everything depends on luck

One of the strange things about golf is that practice does not necessarily improve your next game, but if you don’t practice, you need to be extremely lucky. A CEO friend confided that she considers presentations her weak aspect. On important presentations, she said she would practice up to the wee hours of the morning to make sure she doesn’t bungle her delivery the next day – and this is a very talented CEO.

It is not true that “practice makes perfect,” but it certainly improves your chances of not performing poorly, and chances are, can actually help you improve and create impact.

The best game of the worst player can beat the worst game of the best one

One of the things that make golf a gentleman’s game is the handicap system, where if one is, on record, a better player than the other by 10 shots, the other is given plus 10 shots, so that they are mathematically equal. It’s like what catchweight in boxing is trying to achieve. The truth of the matter though is that you can easily worsen your score more than 10 over your handicap on a bad day, or improve on it by 10 if all the breaks go your way.

Everyone can be beaten in golf. And even the worst player can’t lose all the time. In other words, in golf and in the real business world, never underestimate your opponent. You may be good, but not unbeatable. A well-prepared opponent can have you for breakfast on your bad day. In the profession, your skill level may vary, but your level of preparedness must remain constant.

Thank you, Lord for the mulligan!

The most inventive rule in non-professional golf is the “mulligan.” This means that if you hit a bad shot (the ball hooked into a cliff or sliced into the water, for instance), you do not get penalized. Instead, taking a mulligan allows you to retake the shot, and only the shot you took as a mulligan will be counted. Mulligans are quite limited. You pay for it (P500 per mulligan in a tournament), and sometimes, players mutually agree to have a couple of mulligans per game. Every player is thankful for a mulligan; it’s like a fresh start in the same game. But golf’s mulligan is limited and does not last.

I bring in the mulligan lesson though, not for golf, but to be thankful for the mulligans in life: forgiveness, relationships repaired, a successful new project after a failed one, a second chance, a new humble house, a newborn. Unlike in golf, life’s mulligans are free, and maybe even unlimited. But we all need to appreciate, work hard for it, and really want it.

My favorite lesson from golf is from Ben Hogan (father of the modern swing in golf) because it is so forward-looking, not resting on laurels, and not dwelling on bad breaks. It says: “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” In the same vein, our most important step in this journey of life, is always our next one. Happy New Year, everyone. We all deserve a mulligan!

P.S.: We invite all golfers to join Isla Cup 2018. Register at www.pwc.com/ph/islacup2018 or call 8452728 (look for Edwin of Markets). Proceeds go to the Seat of Hope program that supplies chairs to public schools, for the children.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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