The Difference Between Jordan Spieth and Donald Trump

Aspiring leaders can learn a lot from Donald Trump. Specifically, what not to do. Last week he bragged that HE was going to pass the biggest tax cut in history. Not “my administration”, not “Congressional leaders and me”, “ME“. At the same time, when pressed to explain why he’s failed to pass any significant legislation so far, he has his Press Secretary blame Congress for “not doing their job”.

In contrast, listen to 24 year-old Jordan Spieth after winning his next golf tournament. Or Justin Thomas in three days in South Korea. Both consistently credit their teams for their success, starting every sentence with “We“. They credit their caddies, swing coaches, trainers, agents, and families for their success. Also note how they shift gears when they lose. “My putting wasn’t what it has been.” “I never had control of my driver.”

Two utterly opposite models of leadership. The U.S. Constitution says you have to be 35 years old to be President. If not for that, I’d say, let’s make a trade, Spieth to the Oval Office, Trump to the first tee. I mean he claims to have shot 73 last week. That news was timely, I was beginning to think he had his sense of humor surgically removed.

Kelly Kraft’s Awful, Horrible, No Good Day at TPC Boston

Kelly Kraft, the 64th best player on the PGA Tour, has earned $1,638,000 so far this season. Today he’s playing in the second of the season ending four “playoff” tournaments. He has to finish in the top 70 (out of 100) to advance to the next tournament. The odds of that are not good thanks to his second hole this morning.

  • Shot 1 237 yds to unknown*, 311 yds to hole
  • Shot 2 146 yds to right rough, 166 yds to hole
  • Shot 3 155 yds to water, 36 ft 7 in. to hole
  • Shot 4 Penalty
  • Drop in right fairway, 85 yds to hole
  • Shot 5 98 yds to native area, 38 ft 2 in. to hole
  • Shot 6 3 in. to native area, 38 ft 0 in. to hole
  • Shot 7 Penalty
  • Shot 8 71 yds to water, 44 ft 0 in. to hole
  • Shot 9 Penalty
  • Drop in right fairway, 85 yds to hole
  • Shot 10 86 yds to green, 5 ft 5 in. to hole
  • Shot 11 putt 8 ft 9 in., 3 ft 3 in. to hole
  • Shot 12 in the hole

For shitssake, he was standing 166 yards from the hole lying two! So he made a “10” on a shortish par 3. Somewhere John Daly is smiling. Sadly, I have not played a round of golf all year, yet I am confident I could “break 12” on the second hole at TPC Boston given the chance. Twelve out of twelve times. I guess the silver lining is he’ll be home with his family for the start of the school year.

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*Love that phrase “to unknown”. I have driven it “to unknown” more times than I care to remember.

What I Got Wrong About Professional Golf

I grew up playing golf.

My first job was parking golf carts and picking up range balls at Los Alamitos Golf Course. One benefit of that job was practicing and playing for free. The guy I played behind in high school, Mike Miles, is playing in the US Senior Open right now. Once, another teammate, who just happened to be wearing his golf shirt on an off-day, an act that required serious chutzpa in the pre-TWoods era, told our substitute teacher we had a match and had to leave our 11th grade English class early to warm up. That day we got a few extra holes of practice in on account of her naivete. Who knew at the time we’d both end up being college administrators.

Growing up I used to think that playing professionally would be la ultima. Traveling to exotic places, being on television, being pampered by tournament committees, making mad money, basically living large.

Fast forward to the US Open where I watched a new wave of rookies like Cheng Tsung Pan and Cameron Smith methodically go about their business. With their swing coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and fitness trainers. Pan grew up in Taiwan, spent a chunk of his youth in a Florida golf academy, and starred at the University of Washington. Smith is a 21 year-old Australian who finished fourth after nearly making a “2” on the par 5 18th. On the practice range their ball flight is so consistent it’s mesmerizing. On the greens, their strokes are so silky smooth it’s stupifying. To say these guys got game is an understatement.

The thought I couldn’t shake was that the Tour is like a life saving dinghy floating in the open ocean. For every Pan and Smith that makes it on, two other guys have to be tossed overboard, most likely journeymen in their 40’s. Approximately 500-1,000 guys around the world make a decent living playing professional golf, but at least 50,000-100,000 are seriously pursuing the dream on driving ranges, courses, and tours in Asia, Australia, Europe, South Africa, South America, and Canada. Then throw in NCAA college golf and the Tony Finau’s of the world who bypass college and learn to win on the Web.com Tour and you have a hyper-competitive field of work. Take a breather at your own and your family’s risk.

Every time a PGA journeyman goes to sleep, thousands of guys on the otherside of the world—a younger Pan in Taiwan and a younger Smith in Australia for example—are honing their craft. Professional golf is la ultima, la ultima meritocracy. Every year 90-95% of the players who don’t have any kind of cushion created by victories, have to prove themselves all over again.

The top 50 in the world get a disproportionate amount of the media’s and our attention. Thus, our perspective is grossly distorted. Imagine having a few thousand driven people from all corners of the world strategizing day and night on how to displace you. Then imagine having a family and being on the road two-thirds of the time. Then imagine losing a little confidence with the flat stick (e.g., Michael Putnam, Ernie Els).

It only took me forty years to learn that for the vast majority of journey men and women golfers, it’s an extraordinarily difficult way to make a living.

A Masterful Lesson

I watched a hell of a lot of golf this weekend. I do that one weekend in April every year. It’s a tradition like no other. If I played the same amount as I watched, I would have halved my handicap.

While watching, I marveled at my complete and utter dislike for Tiger Woods. Why do I want anyone but him to win? On Friday, why did I silently cheer when his half wedge at 13 hit the pin on a bounce and caromed back into Rae’s Creek? The Saturday morning penalty was icing on the top. Why do I root so intensely against him? Why does he bring out the worst in me?

My anti-Tiger mania is especially odd since I grew up in Cypress, California a small-medium sized suburban city six miles from Disneyland. It’s most famous for being El Tigre’s hometown. In my teens, I anonymously worked and played the same courses he did so famously in his well documented youth. And he’s a brother in a lily white sport desperately in need of diversity. And his talent is undeniable. And the way he grinds on every shot is admirable. But that’s the kindest thing you’ll ever see me write about him.

Was it the serial womanizing? No. My deep-seated antipathy precedes that downward spiral. Is it the Michael Jordan-like mix of constant commercialism and over the top materialism. In small part. Is it my nostalgia for Nicklaus and my childhood. In small part.

The much larger part came to me while watching Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole. Cabrera hit a very solid approach on the par 4 about 18 feet below the hole. Scott’s mid-iron ended up about 12-14 feet to the side of the hole. Clutch as it gets. Cabrera walked as he watched Scott’s shot in the air. When it landed, he turned and gave Scott a thumbs up sign. Class personified. Scott shot him one right back.

An epiphany exactly one week after Easter. “That’s it!” I realized. Humanity in the midst of the most intense competition imaginable. We’ll never, ever, ever see Tiger do anything like that. His intensity routinely crosses from the admirable to something that makes me root against him. We will never see Tiger applaud an opponent especially in a moment like that. Or reciprocate as Scott did. Never ever. Maybe it’s his dad’s fault, but Tiger learned to focus so intently on winning that everyone and everything else be damned.

I wish the golf press would make a pact and do us all a big favor and just stop interviewing him. He always looks so pained and he never says anything the least bit authentic. He always gives the answers he thinks will end the interview the fastest. The following dialogue bubble should be superimposed on the screen whenever he’s being interviewed, “How much longer until this god foresaken interview with this god d*mned idiot is over?!”

My position on Tiger will soften when a groundskeeper, a golf journalist, a waiter, a caddy, a Tour player, or anyone not on his payroll says something genuinely nice about him. Something that reveals his humanity.

I’m not holding my breath.

Garage Ethics

Check out how I’ve arranged things in the freezer in our garage. Nagging question. Is it ethical? I call the first act of subterfuge the “berry overlay,” the second, the “butter block”. Only way to keep the ice-cream goodness from evaporating in the course of a few days. If it does pass your ethical test and you’re inspired to do the same, be sure to credit me.

Upgraded the sticks recently. I’m so deadly with the luscious new putter, the PGA may declare it an “unfair advantage”. I was dropping bombs from all over the Capital City greens this morning. Think Jason Dufner, first 69 holes of the PGA Championship. Note how the manufacturer worked my name into the label. A legend in my own mind.