As is the case any time the stage is bigger and the lights are brighter, the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills offers some valuable lessons to those paying close attention. It has been said that success leaves clues, and this past weekend left us with some great insights.
1) There is more than one route to the top
Brooks Koepka took an unusual path to the top of his sport. “To be honest, I’m not a big golf nerd,” Koepka told Golf Digest last year. “Golf is kind of boring, not much action. I come from a baseball family and it’s in my blood.” Say what you will about the merits of his baseball-is-full-of-action take, but the important takeaway here is that there are alternatives to the “specialize early, forsake all other pleasures in a joyless, obsessive, pursuit of greatness” route.
Koepka also went against the grain post-college when he spent most of his time competing around the world on the Challenge and European Tours. “Europe was a big key to Brooks’ success,” Koepka’s father said. “It toughened him up and made him focused. He learned how to play in different countries, in various elements. He won in Scotland in the wind and rain. He became a better player than he would’ve been by playing in the manicured, perfect conditions here in the States.” How much do you think this experience helped him Sunday when the wind became a major factor for the first time all week? As others faltered, Koepka ran away from the field.
No matter your sport or context, there is value in thinking creatively about different ways to progress. There is more than one way to the top.
2) You’ve never arrived
Golf is a game that will teach you this lesson over and over. The clearest example of this at Erin Hills was Justin Thomas, who set a major tournament record with a 9-under 63 on Saturday, only to fall back to earth with a 75 the very next day. This is sport at its most cruel – just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the game offers some humbling evidence that you were sorely mistaken.
Why is it so difficult to follow a great round/game/performance with another outstanding one? Certainly, the answer is layered and mysterious. But there is great value in taking on the mindset that a 63 doesn’t guarantee you anything the next day. Whether you shoot 63 or 83, be in the habit of extracting the lessons emerging from the day and training your focus on the next opportunity. It’s great to feel good about a peak performance, but don’t rely on them to generate your confidence. Confidence is a choice, and it’s available no matter the circumstances. But make sure you balance your confidence with a healthy dose of humility. There’s no such thing as “arriving” or “making it” – there is only the journey toward mastery, carved by the ups and downs of pushing yourself to the outer edges of your abilities.