A risky title, I know. Read on, it’s not what you think.
Tiger Woods’s recent transgressions totally de-valued a story I was convinced I would one day tell my son – a story that would be so awesome he would retell it in his kindergarten class and his schoolmates would think I was far cooler than I actually am. It’s a story about perfection. Specifically that perfection is best measured by how someone handles imperfection. This post is not by any means related to adultery, infidelity, or marital transgressions. The perfection I saw Tiger demonstrate happened on the golf course (not off of it).
This past summer I went to my first professional golf tournament at TPC Boston. I was absolutely star-struck watching my favorite golfers play in one of the preliminary tournament rounds. For those that don’t know, preliminary rounds don’t have much notable media coverage (not even for Tiger) so the events I’ll describe may not have made the front page of the Boston Globe. I joked to my friends that the only thing I really wanted to see was a top golfer completely implode: dropping a ball in the pond, hooking one into the woods, or knocking a ball into the gallery. Let’s just say, my dream came true.
Tiger was clearly the star of the show so we followed him for the majority of the day. He was having a horrendous day maintaining control with his driver but was hanging with the pack because he’s the best golfer in the world (period). On the 5th hole, Tiger unleashed a beast of a drive – a slicing bomb that probably went 800 yards straight, but 120 yards due right. Tiger wound up as deep in a thick patch of woods as I usually am – just ~500 yards further down the course. As Tiger walked from the tee box towards the gallery he launched his driver 10 yards straight into a marsh. Aghast, I just stood there. If I had fists that could be pumped without anyone else (let alone Tiger) noticing, I would have pumped them like a mad-man. At the time I may have referred to this as one of the single best moments of my life. As I watched Tiger’s caddie trudge into the swamp to fish out the club, Tiger walked an arm’s length away from me muttering to himself. I couldn’t believe it. Everything I hoped to see that day and more had just happened. The single best golfer of all time had imploded right before my eyes.
The story doesn’t stop there. Muttering to himself, Tiger walked directly over to his ball which was well into the woods. The gallery, knowing this was a chance to be inches away when he took his next swing, literally surrounded Tiger’s ball only leaving a narrow ten yards on either side of the trajectory the ball was about to take out of the woods. I couldn’t help but put myself in Tiger’s shoes. If I had just hit a drive into the woods, tossed my club into a swamp, walked down a fairway muttering to myself in front of a thousand people, and knew laying up was not an option – one of two things would happen. I’d either blast my shot over the fairway into the woods again, or drill someone in the gallery.
Neither option even crossed Tiger’s mind. With the ball teed back in his stance on a hard-packed forest floor, Tiger played the most graceful fading approach shot imaginable. He landed it ~20 feet from the pin and ended up making par. Tiger’s mental fortitude blew me away. In a million years, having played several hundred rounds of golf, I would have never had the same result. It made me realize that perfection isn’t really the absence of imperfection. In the real-world, where nothing is truly “perfect,” perfection is simply knowing what the next best step is when you encounter imperfection.
This concept doesn’t only belong on the golf course. It applies across nearly every experience we have in our personal and professional lives. I hope you enjoyed the story… even though the story is now severely devalued by Tiger’s latest accomplishments.
[If you're doubting that this actually happened, articles citing the event are here and amateur video here]