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Golf and What it Means to Me

June 23, 2015

Golf and What it Means to Me by Dave LaRue

Like many people, I find the golf course to be a great place for me to build and grow relationships both personally and professionally. The basis of all the warm memories I have for the game started with the ones I treasure so much: going up to Ruttger’s in Northern Minnesota with my family and playing with my father-in-law, Bob Nyrop. Those mornings and afternoons I learned integrity, patience, and proper etiquette. I learned about being a businessman, a father, a golfer, and a man.

I love the camaraderie of golf. There is nothing better than having a cigar with some buddies at a beautiful course somewhere in the world! For those few hours, all the stresses of the outside world go away. At the same time, there's something clarifying and minimalistic about the game itself that allows you a deeply private moment of reflection every time you address the ball.

In between the jokes and reminiscing, you have moments of intense awareness of the environment, the lay of the land, the wind. When you step up to the tee, all that matters is what you can do with that little white ball. Gay Hendricks articulates this best in The Big Leap when he says, “The little ball just sits there until you make it go somewhere else. In that regard, golf is very much like life itself: It awaits your intention and action before revealing the mysteries of the outcome.”

The ability to blend the intensely personal and the social is one of the most unique and special aspects of the game, and it’s exactly like in business. You’re trying to outperform yourself, to beat your personal best and improve your results with the ball. Everyone you’re there with is doing the same thing. Competition becomes strangely abstract and philosophical here. Sometimes you talk about it, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you think about it, sometimes you don’t. At the end of the day, though, the scorecard is a vast oversimplification of whether or not you performed well. There’s so much more going on than you can quantify.

And because there’s so much going on—so many aspects and facets that can catch the light in so many unique combinations—success on the golf course is a lot like success in business and in life. The games I’ve played where I learned from mistakes, the courses that were so beautiful that I can’t even remember how the playing went, the games I played where business relationships became friendships and others where friendships deepened into something truly special. These were the best games of golf I’ve played.

In this way, golf has been a great model for me as someone who coaches and mentors people in their lives and careers. Golf has taught me how to define success in meaningful ways, to separate achievement from external rewards in a way I don’t think anything else could. Learning this lesson has been so crucial to so many of my successes in life and in business. It’s funny to think about just how important playing golf has been. It’s funny that it’s taken writing about it to say so.

As a coach, I’m a big believer in telling the stories of your life because so often it isn’t until you sit down to tell your story that the significance of things becomes clear. Now that I know how important golf has been for me, I wonder how it will change how I play it. I feel a whole new sense of gratitude, a new depth of nostalgia for those games played long ago. 

I’m going to call and set up a tee time.