Driving towards business perfection

It was a far cry from the first five visits to the driving range. Those two weeks were often encouraging, as it seemed that I might have a natural inclination to the game of golf despite having not played it before.

From the start, I was not missing many balls, they were largely headed straight, and immediately after I had my swing corrected by the pricey-but-necessary instructor, the dimples-covered spherical object sailed through the air skilfully, almost like what they showed on The Golf Channel.

But here on the sixth trip to the driving range, everything went south. The balls were either frantically laughing back at me as they rolled on the ground three-feet from where I stood, or they were working efficiently to trim the overgrown trees on both sides of the driving range.

Midway into the bucket of 100 balls, I had already jumped over to both of the hitting spots beside me, changed the artificial turf mat twice, inspected every bulge and lump protruding from the mats, and checked my clubs 20 times for any mysterious indentations.

“Welcome to the game of golf, my friend!” quipped an elderly-looking man standing behind me as he approached the vacant hitting spot on my right.

As I embarrassingly justified my beginner status to the presumably seasoned golfer, he interjected, “Some days it goes your way. Some days it just doesn’t, no matter what you do. That’s what makes the game so interesting.”

Donning a puzzling orange Bermuda short and a fluorescent pink sleeveless t-shirt, Mazlan revealed that he has been playing the game for the last 15 years and has learned to accept that he will unlikely be able to perfect the art of playing golf. Instead, he sees it as an important tool to improve his business management skills.

“To me, playing golf is very much like running the my business. The flags and greens are clear to see and you know exactly where you are aiming for. Yet, most of the time you miss the target, often by a mile!” described the founder of an almost three-decade-old childcare centre in Sri Hartamas.

Despite the continued disappointments over the years, the entrepreneur still persists in playing the game. For him, this reflects the challenges his team faces each day in running the centres. “Like golf, there’s always room for improvement. That’s why the best golfers around the world still practices on a daily basis to improve themselves.”

While continuing to urge for answers from the rebellious 7-iron on the wayward balls it is delivering, I was rather amused by Mazlan’s analogies. When I decided to learn the game, it was merely an avenue for me to emulate the fame and fortune of Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie. Work and business were never part of the equation.

During the next Gatorade break, the father of four shared on the similarities of caddies and business partners. “When you are on the course, especially one that you are unfamiliar with, finding the right caddy is the key to playing a good game. He or she will be able to lead and guide you to the potential hazards throughout the course.

“They are like business coaches and advisors to a new business owner. While you can do without their services, having them around would make it easier for you to learn the trade and faster for you to attain the desired results.”

Mazlan explained that he had previously worked with a partner that not only did not understand the industry or have the necessary work experience, but was also a negative influence when faced with obstacles. “A good caddy would never be negative,” he iterated.

After the remaining balls in my bucket went pretty much the same way as their predecessors, Mazlan’s views echoed in my mind as I sat recovering from my mental exertion. As in business, golf is about achieving goals in as few strokes as possible. Along the way, whether in the shape of a bunker, water hazard or thick grass, you will need intelligence, creativity and mental focus to complete the journey.

For the 60-year-old entrepreneur, the journey on the golf course has resulted in many lasting and profitable business relationships. He said, “All it takes is 18 holes of golf and you will learn more about your client’s competitiveness, honesty, humility and ability to handle failure, as compared to 20 years of business meetings in the office.”

When you think of the minimum four hours spent walking in a relaxed and gentle surrounding, walking or sharing an intimate buggy around the course, plus lunch after the game, it does make sense why the sport has become a favourite amongst the business community.

After stopping me from donating my irons to the local scrapyard and before we said our goodbyes, the former English language teacher urged me to continue learning the correct techniques in using all of the clubs in the golf bag before getting onto the golf course.

“Just like an entrepreneur needs to know his team, understand the market and utilise the right technology before he can embark on a business, in golf you must know all of the 14 clubs very well – role and distance – before you are ready to compete. But be prepared for many more bad days ahead!” he asserted.

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