Watson, Golf and Me
It was Saturday evening, and I had tears in my eyes as I explained to my wife what was going on in the world of golf. Tom Watson, a man two months shy of 60, was leading the British Open after three rounds. It didn’t matter that Tiger Woods had missed his first cut in a major, losing the opportunity to win major number 15. Tom Watson, at nearly 60 years of age, was about to win major number nine. A miracle was about to happen. My wife and niece didn’t seem to get the enormity of the situation. I couldn’t express it to them, or if I did they were not interested enough to watch the drama of the final round.
In golf the collective belief is that when you reach the age of 40, you are very unlikely to be competitive anymore. Somehow you don’t have the strength or the mental tools to play consistent top golf. When Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 47, I thought it was one of the greatest golf feats ever. In addition, Julius Boros won the U.S. open at age 48, although that was probably a little too early for me to be aware of.
As a pro golfer, when you reach 50 years of age, you are so old that you really are no longer competitive in the PGA, so you get to join the Senior (Champions) Tour. The senior tour is dominated by men in their early 50s.
(Actually, Tom Watson is older than any of the winners on the Champions Tour this year.
Tom had hip replacement surgery in late 2008, so he hasn’t been able to
again until recently.) By the time you get to be 60, you are just too old to be able to compete, even among the 50 year olds. These, of course, are the collective beliefs of golfers everywhere and they create our reality.
No one could run a mile in under four minutes until Roger Bannister did it in 1954. Once he did it, then all of the top runners could do it. Once someone shatters a collective belief in a very public way, it changes everything.
We create the world in two ways:
- Through our own beliefs we create our own experience.
- Through our collective beliefs we create the experience that everyone seems
to buy into.
But Tom Watson rose above all of that. In an interview at the end of the third round, Tom said that he was in a peaceful, spiritual state that he’d only achieved in his lifetime several times before. When I heard him say that I thought, “We might see a miracle tomorrow.”
It was now Sunday. Tom was on the 18th hole and in sole possession of the lead. He needed
par and he’d win the British Open at age 59. The commentators were all amazed because they were all professional golfers who had given up competing long ago, and they were all
younger than Tom Watson. We were seeing the impossible about to happen. And if it happened, new barriers would be shattered in our collective consciousness.
Tom hit an 8 iron to the green. It was almost perfect. It hit on the green, but caught the slope and rolled off the green, coming to rest right on the fringe. This was one of the hardest holes in the championship and few people managed par from here. Tom hit the ball about 12 feet from the cup. He was 12 feet away from a miracle. He was eight feet away from winning the British Open and he’d made thousands of putts like this in his lifetime.
At that point I wish I could have been his caddie. I’d have told him, “You’ve made this putt many, many times; now just step into the feeling of having made the putt and winning this championship. Imagine what it will feel like to be the oldest man to win a major championship by nearly 12 years. Just step into that feeling. And when you’ve got that, just trust that you’ll make it.” What I would have told Tom was the secret behind
The Secret. And Tom had been doing that for almost 72 holes.
But I wasn’t Tom’s caddie and Tom’s caddie, as best I could tell, didn’t tell him anything. And then it happened—Tom missed the putt. He hadn’t won the British Open. He was now in a playoff. He’d still made history, but
somehow that’s like running a mile in 4.000000000000000001 minutes. It’s not enough to make a difference. It wasn’t enough to erase barriers in human consciousness because Tom Watson had not won his 9th major championship. He was only
tied. And our rules say their can only be ONE winner.
Tom was now in a four-hole playoff with Stewart Cinq. Stewart had made a miraculous putt on the 18th hole to make a birdie and get into the playoff. And he was on top of the world. He probably knew in his mind that the Open Championship was his. And Tom Watson played the four remaining holes as one might expect a 60 year old to play. Tom was a defeated man and Cinq won by six shots.
I was devastated and I wasn’t sure why. Cinq had won his first major. Why wasn’t I happy for him? My thought was, “It sucks that Tom didn’t win.” I wanted to cry I was so upset.
You see I’m 62 years old. I used to be a pretty decent golfer. On my 17th birthday I played six holes of golf in five under par. However, a big thunderstorm came in and it started pouring. I was soaked and couldn’t finish that round because it was too dangerous to be on the course. Plus, how well can you play golf when it’s raining so hard that you can’t even see 20 feet in front of you? I left the golf course very upset and about an hour later I was involved in an accident that totaled my car. I never had a round of golf (even 9 holes) under par again. I wanted to make my high school golf team that year, but I didn’t make it that year, nor did I make it my senior year.
Probably because of those experiences, I seemed to have less and less time to play golf. It was no longer a passion. After high school, I didn’t play enough golf to play well. Nevertheless, when I was in my 40s and early 50s, I’d still play golf 6-7 times a year.
At one point, once I’d worked on the beliefs having to do with my round of golf being rained out and then totaling my car, I attended a three day golf school. At the end of it I could boom a 2 iron or a 3 iron (a feat that had eluded me most of my golfing life). There was still some potential in me I thought. Perhaps I could practice really hard and actually play in the Champion’s Tour at age 50 and maybe even win a tournament. Could I?
Later, I was told that my swing speed was 85 mph and that pretty much was fixed. I’d never be like the pros with swing speeds of 115 mph who could hit drives of 350 yards. Was that a collective belief I was buying into? Furthermore, as I got older, I’d lose flexibility and my swing speed would slow even more. I’d probably be hitting a fairway wood when a pro might be hitting an 8 iron. And despite the lessons, I still didn’t play often and when I did I usually found that the sun/heat just seem to exhaust me. So I stopped playing.
I’ve shared this story with you because it is clear to me how my beliefs (somewhat shaped by an incident when I was 17 years old) have shaped my experience playing golf. If I can play six holes in five under par one time, then I’m capable of doing it a lot. But I gave up on a dream because I felt the Universe didn’t want me to have even one exceptional round of golf. And even though I’d cleared that belief, I hadn’t realized the impact of a few other beliefs on me:
- Golf isn’t any fun unless you play well.
- You’ve got to play 2-3 times per week to play well.
- I feel exhausted when I get too much sun, so I don’t play golf when the temperature gets above 80.
And then I bought into some of the collective beliefs:
- Once your swing speed is established, it’s fixed for life. (Or perhaps this was just a belief one professional golfer gave me).
- By the time you reach 50 your ability to play will fall dramatically and by the time you reach 60 you are just a shadow of your former golfing self.
So why am I writing this in a newsletter about trading? Your performance in golf is rooted in your beliefs about yourself and golf.
In the same way, your trading performance is shaped by your beliefs about yourself and trading. Think about that for a minute. Can you identify (make conscious) ten beliefs that you have about yourself and trading? The great news is that you can overcome your own limiting beliefs through the procedures discussed in the Peak Performance Course.
Additionally, whether or not you realize it, you are shaped by the collective beliefs that most people share (i.e., about golf, trading, or anything else). Think about that for a minute. Can you make conscious ten commonly held beliefs about trading? These affect you also—even if you don’t believe them. You can minimize the effects of collective limiting beliefs by focusing inward. Furthermore, if you become clear enough, you can get into a flow state where you
no longer are influenced by the collective beliefs of others at all. You can get into that state with your trading, as well as other areas of your life. Tom Watson did it this weekend even though he didn’t shatter the collective belief by actually winning the open.
I promised my wife that if Tom Watson won the British Open, I’d get serious about playing golf again. He didn’t win, so I don’t have to do anything. But Tom proved something to me. I think I’ll start hitting golf balls again and see what kind of barriers I can overcome.
We play the games of life according to collective rules. In the game of golf, that means that few can break par and only one person can win an
Open Championship. To the victor go the spoils and the rest are just forgotten. But what if we made one simple rule change? If two people are tied at the end of 18 holes, then both of them are crowned Champions. Tom Watson, I just changed the rules, and you’ve just won your
ninth Major at almost 60 years of age. You’ve accomplished a miracle. How does that feel? And why can’t that be the rule?
The games of life (including the money game) are filled with rules to make a few people special and the rest forgotten. And you can only be special a few times. Most of the time, you are forgotten. But as we teach in the Trader Reinvention game in Peak Performance 202, you can make up your own rules to the games you play:
- Making a mistake means not following your rules; it has nothing to do with making money.
- You make money by cutting losses short and letting profit ride; it has nothing to do with being right.
- When your monthly income from passive sources exceeds your
expenses, you don't have to work again.
- Tom Watson, you’ve accomplished a miracle as you approach your 60th birthday. You’ve won the British Open because being tied for the lead at the end of 72 holes means winning it. And you have my permission to believe that if you wish.
Van Tharp: Trading coach, and author, Dr. Van K. Tharp is
widely recognized for his best-selling books and his outstanding
Peak Performance Home Study program - a highly regarded classic
that is suitable for all levels of traders and investors. You can
learn more about Van Tharp at www.iitm.com.