Golfers are among my favorite solopreneurs to study, because there’s no ambiguity about how well they’re doing. Golfers’ business results are as plain to see as numbers on a spreadsheet: earnings, top-ten finishes, greens in regulation, number of putts per round, and dozens of other statistics.
With the 2014 golf year entering its final chapters, here are four takeaways from the season that help explain the solopreneur life.
Martin Kaymer, 29, Germany. In 2010 Kaymer was atop the world rankings after winning the PGA Championship. In the ensuing months he overhauled his golf swing in an attempt to improve his game. The results were disastrous. He was missing cuts and his confidence appeared to be shot. He was considered a very weak link on Europe’s 2012 Ryder Cup team.
But late last season (perhaps out of desperation?!), Kaymer returned to his natural golf swing, the one that came easily to him. Today’s he’s again one of the top-ranked players in the game, and he blew away the field in June in the U.S. Open.
Truth: “easy” can be a strong indicator of an area where you’re gifted. Don’t scoff at things that come easily.
Inbee Park, 26, South Korea. Last year Park dominated the women’s tour, winning six tournaments, including three majors. But the winning didn’t satisfy her, so her goal for 2014 had nothing to do with sand saves or fairways hit.
“My goal is to be happy and try not to put too much pressure on myself,” Park told Golf Magazine. “I’m getting married this year, so it’s a very important time in my life — not just from a golf perspective, but a life perspective.”
Park currently is third in the world rankings, down from number one. And she appears to be very content.
Truth: professional achievement doesn’t always bring happiness.
Rory McIlroy, 25, Northern Ireland. McIlroy was a golf prodigy who rose quickly in the game. In 2011 at age 22, he dominated the U.S. Open and won by eight strokes. In 2012 he earned the PGA Championship with another eight-stroke victory. McIlroy was being compared to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
But then McIlroy made changes, lots of changes. He fired his manager. He reportedly stopped practicing as hard as he had before. He signed a lucrative equipment deal with Nike and struggled to adjust to the new sticks. He began a globetrotting courtship with a world-class tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki.
And McIlroy’s on-course earnings fell 77 percent, from $8 million in 2013 to $1.8 million in 2012.
In 2014 McIlroy rededicated himself to the goal of becoming one of the game’s all-time greats. His wire-to-wire win in last week’s Open Championship confirmed he’s back in top form.
Truth: don’t make lots of big changes all at once.
Bernard Langer, 56, Germany. Today Langer won the Senior Open Championship by a record-breaking 13 strokes. That’s an incredible margin of victory — Secreatiat-at-the-Belmont incredible. Langer might be the best golfer in the world right now, regardless of age, and there’s speculation Langer could be named to this year’s European Ryder Cup team. It’s rare for any player who’s past 40 years old to play in the Ryder Cup, and while the Ryder Cup notion seems preposterous, it underscores the quality of Langer’s work.
When discussing Langer this weekend, ESPN commentator and two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North said older players can be better in their 50s than in their 20s, if they improve their technique, on-course strategy, fitness, and mental approach. Interestingly, Langer rarely takes time off from the Champions Tour; he approaches his job like a hungry pro on the Web.com Tour.
Truth: you can compete at a high level until you’re pushing daisies, if you’re willing to keep grinding.