leadership, sports

Leadership Lessons from the Ryder Cup

I feel sure I have written about the Ryder Cup before. It feels like too great of an event with too many lessons to not have written about it. But I couldn’t find one, so I guess that gives me some more topics to cover, things like teamwork, fan respect, the importance of process, etc.

But today, let’s bring out the leadership coach in all of you. You have 24 case studies, more if you want to include the vice-captains who also have to be managed (I’m guessing leading Tiger Woods is different than leading Bubba Watson).

So (using the US team as examples) how would you lead the boisterous and flamboyant Patrick Reed versus the incredibly introverted and introspective Ryan Moore? How would you ensure that rookies like Brooks Koepka get fired up for the moment but not overwhelmed by it? How do you possibly keep Phil Mickelson from saying the wrong thing in pre-match press conferences?

And of course let’s not forget what the captains really have to figure out, how the players best match together in the paired matches. Europe has some long-standing “rules of thumb” it appears. Like you almost always see the Spaniards paired together, regardless of whether their personalities match up; assumedly based on a sort of comfort level of shared experiences that allows them to focus more easily on the golf tasks at hand. The US tried that this week putting the guys from Texas together, even as Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed have seemingly opposite personal styles. It seemed to work to some extent – a couple of wins, one loss due to a collapse (or epic comeback if rooting for Europe) on Saturday. Maybe most importantly it seemed to get Patrick Reed in the right frame of mind and he basically steamrolled the whole Ryder Cup himself.

I also note that some players just don’t seem a great fit for match play. I feel like Jordan Spieth is in that mold, though obviously based on small sample size of a couple of matches and I presume we will get to see him many more times to either validate this or debunk it. But some players seem too “consistent” and built for a four day stroke play event versus the need to hit “one good shot” for the win; and some players can’t seem to channel the emotions of the event into productive shots.

My take on a few of these:

  •  Patrick Reed – wind him up and let him go. Usually there is some limit to the amount of energy one can expend and the amount of adrenaline that is good for one’s performance. Not sure with Patrick. Sure he and Rory didn’t keep up the pace from the front nine in their singles match, but while Rory looked noticeable weary and deflated on the back nine (all the while still in a dog fight), Patrick seemed to keep way more focus than he normally does on tour after bad shots, and just kept grinding – it felt like he was ready to go another 18 with Rory if someone told him the cup was tied and they came up with a new tiebreaker.
  • Ryan Moore – leave him alone. I doubt any of the usual hysterics for the first two days and 15 holes on Sunday had much impact on Ryan other than to make him wish he’d brought ear plugs. I can’t imagine the Saturday night speeches were going to add 10 yards to his drives like they might the other guys. Davis Love let him be, and there was Ryan with his personal team on the range at dawn. There was Ryan getting inspired on 15 down two to Lee Westwood on Sunday because, in his words, he saw that his teammates were following his group and he wanted to do it for them. He probably largely ignored their shouts of encouragement, but inside he found the motivation, just like he always has in team events going back to his amateur days. He found it just in time to hit five marvelous shots on three holes, make two clutch putts to win holes, and an easy two putt to clinch the win for the US on 18.
  • Phil Mickelson – he is my favorite player but I wouldn’t want to captain him in these events. Tough to judge how he will play with others, not going to hide his opinions. He is a rainmaker for sure. I think the advice for any rainmaker is to make them part of the process, both big and small (I think that has been happening), give them some boundaries and then let them go within that loose framework. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t. This time he was brilliant and embraced the spotlight and the pressure.

Your turn. We still have nine more US players plus a whole Europe squad, captains picks to scrutinize, vice captain egos to massage. It’s not easy being a Ryder Cup captain, I do hope they get paid well.



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