Harvey Mackay

Golden Wisdom From the Golden Bear

Golf has been a big part of my life. When I was growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, I dreamed about making a living playing golf professionally. I wanted to be the next Ben Hogan, the top golfer at that time. When I was competing in the NCAA golf tournament as a member of the University of Minnesota golf team, I realized that wasn't going to happen.

I still love golf after all these years. It's been a hole-in-one opportunity to build my envelope manufacturing business. Whether you're opening doors or closing deals, golf can enhance almost any business opportunity.

Earlier this month I was privileged to play golf with another links hero of mine, Jack Nicklaus, regarded as the greatest golfer of all time. He won 73 PGA tournaments, including a record 18 major championships. We played his home course -- The Bear's Club in Florida -- and I was a sponge as I soaked up his golf wisdom.

I asked Jack about his tremendous success, especially in making crucial tournament-winning putts. He thought about it for a bit and said, "I never missed a putt in my mind."

Jack Nicklaus is not considered to be the best at hitting his woods, long or short irons, or even chipping and putting. But almost everyone considers him the greatest thinking golfer of all time. He had no equal at the mental part of the game, which makes up 50 percent of competitive golf.

As an example, golf great Ben Hogan stood over a crucial putt. Suddenly, a loud train whistle blared in the distance. After he had sunk the putt, someone asked Hogan if the train whistle had bothered him.

"What whistle?" Hogan replied.

Jack said: "Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety. I have always felt that the sheer intensity Ben Hogan applied to the shot-making specifics was one of his greatest assets. It left no room in his mind for negative thoughts. The busier you can keep yourself with the particulars of shot assessment and execution, the less chance your mind has to dwell on the emotional 'if' and 'but' factors that breed anxiety."

Nicklaus put great effort into preparation. I can't think of another golfer who was better prepared. He would often arrive at a tournament a week early to study the course, prepare mentally and relax. He always kept his focus on the game.

We discussed how much you can learn about a person when you play golf with them. The game tends to expose your real character. One study found 47 percent of those surveyed believed that behavior on the golf course usually paralleled behavior in business. It tests your fortitude, your confidence and your humility.

Golf is a networking game par excellence. In what other environment can you see your customer for four to five hours straight, without interruption from phones, meetings or competitors, for that matter? And no one knows this better than Jack.

If you're making a key hire or closing a business deal, the golf course is an ideal test because you see how people act in all kinds of circumstances. You can take note of their appearance, how they carry themselves and how well they follow the etiquette and rules of the game -- even if they know how to have fun. And remember, they can see how you handle yourself as well!

Jack joked that most people work their entire lives so they can play golf in retirement, whereas he played golf most of his life so he could retire to work. His Nicklaus Design company has opened more than 400 courses in 42 countries around the world.

Nicklaus is also a big believer in philanthropy and volunteerism. He and his terrific wife, Barbara, who entertained our group for dinner at their home, have raised tens of millions of dollars for the hugely impactful Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which provides families access to world-class pediatric health care.

Those activities illustrate his priorities in life: family, golf and business. He skipped a lot of tournaments because of family activities. He also would leave in the middle of a tournament and fly somewhere to watch his kids and be back the next day to tee off.

One final point I found interesting. When Jack was giving me a putting lesson, he told me that Barbara devoted 40 years to his life in golf. Now it is his turn to devote the next 40 years to her life. Family really is No. 1 with Jack Nicklaus.

Mackay's Moral: Golf is so much more than just a game; it's a slice of life.

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