Golf and Process: Separated at birth ?

With the start of a spell of decent weather here in the UK I went out and played a bit of golf yesterday (Don't ask about how well I played, it was just practice... Right!)

As I approached the 16th hole (short par four with a huge oak in the middle of the fairway), it struck me how playing golf and managing processes have a lot in common

Bear with me on this.

From the outside golf looks like an easy game. It looks as though little is going on: men and women wondering up and down fields and smacking a ball with a stick. But in fact lots is happening that is not totally visible (understanding the lie of the land, calculating yardage and club selection for example)

Inside the golf game there are parallels between the process project and the round of golf: Each works to a set of rules (although for the project these rules are not always followed correctly!) and each has metrics to decide how well it is doing (Strokes taken, Greens in regulation, Fairways hit, sand saves etc. vs Processes defined, process owners allocated and trained, etc.)

Let's look at the guys who do this for a living (golf, I mean). The Lee Westwood's, Justin Rose's, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson's etc. If you look at their stats you will see that they are all pretty good, but there is a huge discrepancy between individual stats.

Take Tiger, for example. Everyone sees him as being a long hitter. But in actual fact he's not even in the PGA tour's top ten hitters (he's actually somewhere in the mid 50's with an average distance of 287 yards). When it comes to accuracy (number of times a drive lands in the fairway) Tiger is way, way down in the list landing only 58% of his drives on the fairway.

In fact looking at his stats overall, the picture is not too promising. He's not the best driver, he's not the most accurate shooter, he's not the best putter, and he's atrocious at sand saves (Getting out of a bunker and putting he next shot in the hole), but he is good where it really counts: Scoring average and money earned. In both those stats he's number 1.

Driving Distance 287.7 56th

Driving Accuracy Percentage 58.93% 138th

Greens in Regulation Pct. 73.26% 1st

Putting Average 1.735 8th

Eagles (Holes per) 96.0 2nd

Birdie Average 4.31 2nd

Scoring Average 67.73 1st

Sand Save Percentage 47.62% 120th

Total Driving 194 94th
All-Around Ranking 328 5th
Regular Season FedExCup Points 17,745 1st
Money Leaders $4.425 m
1st - -
Par Breakers 25.00% 1st

Putts Per Round 28.63 42nd

GIR Pct. - Fairway Bunker 80.0% 2nd - -
Stats courtesy of

So what has this got to do with process, you may ask!

Well, anyone who has watched Tiger play will know that he has a set routine for every shot. He plays every shot with the same level of determination and preparation. In other words he has a process that he follows for every shot. He also has a process he follows for practice on the range. He has a process he follows when he is out playing practice rounds. He has a process he follows when on the practice putting green. Every part of his game has a particular set of rules, inputs and outputs which guarantee the best possible outcome.

The interesting thing here is that Tiger's processes in detail are obviously not the best (for example if he's 138th on tour in driving accuracy it means that the process for managing direction in his shot's is not optimised. For that he should look at someone like Olin Browne who has the best driving accuracy on tour, hitting almost 8 out of ten fairways), but overall, Tiger's processes get him where he needs to be: Number 1 in the golf world.

Now let's look at another major player: Justin Rose

Driving Distance 280.8 109th

Driving Accuracy Percentage 64.48% 70th

Greens in Regulation Pct. 63.49% 76th

Putting Average 1.858 184th

Eagles (Holes per) 378.0 111th

Birdie Average 2.62 184th

Scoring Average 70.85 74th

Sand Save Percentage 64.52% 7th

Total Driving 179 73rd
All-Around Ranking 815 108th
Regular Season FedExCup Points 1,416 109th
Money Leaders $331k
111th - -
Par Breakers 14.81% 183rd

Putts Per Round 29.76 155th

GIR Pct. - Fairway Bunker 61.5% 16th - -
Stats courtesy of

This tells us that his driving accuracy is way better than Tiger's, his sand saves are way better than Tiger's, his total driving is way better than Tiger's and yet, when it comes to the places that count - Scoring average and money earned - he is way behind Tiger. Again I think this is down to process. Justin obviously has processes in place the same as Tiger but it is possible that they are not working the same for him as they are for the world number one.

Let me see if I can show you an analogy.

If I was running a call centre which was measured on throughput of customer calls I could easily design a process that allowed for all calls to last a maximum of 2 minutes each. Operators would be trained to either solve the issue immediately or drop the caller back to a queue to be dealt with by someone who is better suited to answer the question. When the stats at the end of the month appear it means they have met their objective of each answered call lasting 2 minutes or less. However, the customer is not happy because they have been shuttled back and forth to different people who couldn't answer their question.

The problem is that folks are measuring the wrong things in the process. Tiger and his team are obviously not too concerned about the fact that he is wildly inaccurate off the tee because they know that his ability to land the second ball on the green is the best on tour (literally). This means they have identified the right things to measure and are measuring them appropriately. (Remember Comerfords Third Rule of Metrics: "If you are going to measure something at least find a way of feeding this back into the process to affect change"). Justin Rose's coaches are looking at his stats and trying to improve all of them, thereby ensuring that none of them are getting any better. Justin drives it just 7 yards less than Tiger, lands it in the fairway 5 percent more often but misses the green on the next shot 10% more than Tiger. This makes him 76th in the stats list rather than first. This is what's causing the issue. Once they are both on the green, Tiger only holes one more putt in ten than Justin does, but because he's on the green more often than Justin it means his scores are lower: Almost three shots per round lower. Couple that with four rounds per tournament and there is a 12 shot difference between the two players. That's enough to put Tiger at the top and Justin down in 108th place.

So the question I pose to you is : 'Are you trying to optimise all your process at the expense of knowing where the main benefit needs to be?' Couldn't we all benefit from knowing that even though some of our processes are suboptimal, we have identified they key ones and made sure those are working well?

(C) Process Cafe 2008
(Photo courtesy of Guiri R. Reyes)

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