Golf Like a Leader/Lead Like a Golfer

The reason the pro tells you to keep your head down is so you can’t see him laughing.  ~Phyllis Diller~

After leading a busy June and July in the working and engaging in online learning, I spent a weeks off-line to reconnect with my family, my friends and some of my summer pastimes. Along with sunny days by the pool, a prodigious supply of spy novels and late night comedy, I spent some time on the golf course.

I enjoy golf, and I’m always trying to improve. Like skiing,  it is an activity that requires patience, a degree of skill and a willingness to seek continuous improvement; no matter how good a golfer one is, there is always room for improvement. I took up golf in my twenties and would definitely fall into the ‘weekend hacker’ category.  A few years back, I decided to invest in some new clubs, get some lessons and work on improving my skill, not to be competitive, but just for the sake of getting better at the game. The lessons helped me a lot; especially with my iron play, but one pesky problem seemed to persist.

I have had a wicked slice, a slice so bad  that, in order to hit the fairway, I could almost stand perpendicular to the tee box. So, I looked to YouTube for some individualized, real time learning on using the long stick and found 3 key points, with video, to help me fix my slice.   Along with the validation of the role that technology can play in supporting real-time, personalized learning, I also learned a few things about being a good driver (and leader).

The core of a good drive depends on three things; the grip, the stance and the follow through. Funny enough,as I though about it, these things seem awfully similar to the core of effective school leadership.

The Grip: I learned to rotate my hands counter clockwise on the club grip (I’m a lefty) moving my grip ‘behind’ the ball and to loosen my grip so I wasn’t squeezing the club, firm, not tight. I was squeezing too tight, causing a loss of feeling for the ball and tensing up the swing, prompting me to swing too hard. In my school role, am I mindful of my grip? Not too tight, not over-managing, and remembering the importance of maintaining a connection with the staff,students and families?

The Stance: I learned I was lining up to far ahead of the ball so I moved my stance back, lining the ball up with the inside of my front foot adjusting my weight back, put more flex into my knees and straightened my spine, giving me a greater degree of balance.  Keep my weight behind the target, stay balanced, keep an open stance, are these things I remain mindful of at school?  Do I race too far ahead, or do I remain mindful of the needs and dispositions of  those with whom I’m working?

The Follow Through: My swing was traveling ‘outside-in’ which put the slice inducing spin on the ball. I learned to keep my arms close to my torso, swing easy and turn my wrists, following through towards the target line. It turns out that following through; is a critical component of a good drive. What one does after the ball is struck is just as important as before and during. Do I follow through and look for the impact of my actions and decisions? And is reflection a part of the follow through.

My goal moving into the new school year is to remain aware of the lessons I’ve learned this summer; not just on the golf course, but in the many interactions I will have with students, families and colleagues.



  1. Andrew said:

    I enjoyed your post and thought maybe I might add to it. I started playing golf when I was eight, played in many tournaments, mostly state level and a few national. Played in college however I have gotten away from the game, but by stepping away I was able to see what I learned from the game that continues to this day to shape my perspective for daily life. I think as a leader these would be true too.

    1. Know your strengths (skill set), play to them. Practice your weaknesses
    2. Start each hole with a plan. Work to achieve that plan. Have a desired outcome in mind. If your tee shot is less than stellar, continue staying focused on your outcome for the hole.
    3. Improve your skills so that you can face just about any obstacle. Know how to play all kinds of shots. By learning these, the holes get easier because you do not fear making a mistake.
    4. Be Creative. There is usually more than one way to play a hole. My favorite tactic would be to stand on the green of the hole I just played and look back to the tee. Usually the hole looked completely different from standing on the tee.
    5. Do the little things. Practice chipping and putting.
    6. Stay focused on the task at hand. I have shot a 33 on the front and followed it up with at 42 on the back before!
    7. Never panic. Conversely I have shot a 41 on the front and followed it with at 31 on the back as well.
    8. Be grateful and humble. A 72 today might be an 82 tomorrow.


    August 23, 2011
    • Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for the response. I particularly was drawn to point number 8; staying humble and remaining grateful. They are likely the most important disposition for any truly successful leader.


      August 24, 2011
  2. Donene Rognlie said:

    This is a wonderful analogy for leadership. I have always loved to use professional athletes as an example of the need for continous learning and improvement. Both for myself and for teachers. The idea that someone would spend hours upon hours to perfect something they are already great at is inspiring. Especially given they are better than 99.9% of the general populace. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to send it on to our admin team tomorrow.

    August 23, 2011
    • Hi Donene

      I appreciate the feedback and the share. We all can learn a thing or two about persistence and dedication from athletes (and artists).


      August 24, 2011
  3. Brad Kohlhepp said:


    GREAT POST! So relevant and I love the analogous nature of the post to two things that are dear to my heart.

    I too have major issues with my driver, being too tense is one of them. I try to picture Freddie Couples and how relaxed he always looks. I think the relaxation part is undervalued and, as you know, the angrier you get and the more you lose your cool the more your game is negatively effected. As professionals, we need to continue to “Keep calm and carry on” even during the tensest of times.

    Thanks for starting my morning out right!

    August 24, 2011
    • Hi Brad,

      Thanks for the response. In addition to that, as my dad always says, it also helps to keep your eye on the ball:)


      August 24, 2011

Comments are closed.