Resilient Leadership at the Masters, the Bubba Watson Way

Photo Credit: Hone Morihana

Bubba Watson’s victory at the Masters proved once again the wisdom of legendary swing coach Butch Harmon, whose insight into the best golfers applies to the top corporate leaders too. Over dinner at the Masters a few years ago, I asked Butch the difference between good golfers and great ones. The swing coach to Tiger Woods and others didn’t take long to answer. “The ability to recover from adversity faster than everyone else,” Butch replied.

Case in point: Bubba Watson on Masters weekend. By leading at Augusta National, he showed the mental toughness necessary for leaders in any venue. He was centered in a strong sense of self and balanced by those around him.

Recovery 101

Watching Bubba recover quickly from adversity, these motivational tips came to mind. Here’s why he won:

  • By expecting the best. Subtle, sudden momentum shifts make players struggle to keep their inner balance. Bubba stayed strong through self-belief. He had won his first green jacket two years ago with an unbelievable wedge shot during a playoff. That experience didn’t mean he would win this time, but it proved he could—and so he did.
  • By forgetting pretty. Though Bubba believed in his ability to persevere, he wasn’t picky about how it looked. “I do what it takes to make the score.  I don’t care how pretty it is, I don’t care if it’s ugly, I don’t care if it’s out of the woods,” he said. “I just want to make a score.” This attitude let his creativity and resourcefulness blossom.
  • By keeping a short memory. The most famous hole at Augusta National is No. 12, a par-3 over the bridge, framed by a hillside of azaleas. At the 2013 Masters, Bubba made a 10 (that’s not a typo) on this hole. This year, he played it four times and only needed 11 shots total. That’s rebounding, big time.
  • By staying humble. Entitlement gets in the way of bouncing back. It’s absent in Bubba’s world. “I might never win again, but I’m going to give it my best effort,” he said after he won. He added, “I’m not really that good, I’ve got to keep practicing.” By seeing himself as the underdog, he takes the pressure off and stays motivated to succeed.
  • Accepting and acknowledging help. Golf may be an individual sport, but Bubba gave a lot of credit to his support network. He singled out his caddie, who told him all week, “Play what you know” and “Whatever makes you comfortable.” He also paid tribute to his wife and parents’ support. In his remarks after winning, Bubba used the word “we” 23 times. With help, it’s easier to bounce back.
  • By finding personal inspiration away from work. Bubba married knowing that his wife couldn’t get pregnant. Their early efforts to adopt didn’t work out. They got rejected more than once, so you know that took resilience to keep going. Finally two years ago, a call came. A little boy would join their family. Today Caleb Watson represents all that patience and perseverance, and when he toddled out to meet his tearful dad on the final green, Bubba scooped him up and both of them high-fived folks in the crowd.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

Resilience depends on a Bubba-like belief that disappointments aren’t forever, and something good is going to happen sooner than later. This is the attitude that Butch Harmon pointed out as a key trait of the best performers in this sport. Resilience shrinks the gap between talent and success. I don’t use the word “miracle” lightly. But I have to believe that a guy like Bubba Watson lives a little closer to that place than the golfers who finished behind him two out of the last three years. His belief in himself drives him to do the hard work that makes him rebound from pressure and crises. Resilience depends on a sense of hope, and that combination separates leaders from followers.

Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.