Refusing to Lay Up

In golf, there are times when the safe bet is to “lay up” and not press your luck. The logic is that two safe shots are better than one catastrophic shot that causes you a penalty and even more shots.

A good example would be when Tiger Woods was in the middle of a sand bunker, 214 yards from the pin and there was the crowd and a lake between him and the green at the Bell Canadian Open in 2000.

For 10 years Tiger Woods was unstoppable. I can’t remember him ever laying up in a tournament. He wasn’t interested in earning a living playing golf, he wanted to win. He wanted to change the game so that when you thought of golf, you thought of Tiger Woods. He did exactly that starting in the late 1990’s.

By deciding to “go for it” and then actually doing it, Tiger caused the other players to basically give up. Research by Jennifer Brown shows when Tiger was in the hunt, other golfers scored worse.

The effect was strongest for top-ranked players—the ones competing directly with Tiger for the big money. In fact, Brown calculates that Woods has raked in an extra $6 million dollars in winnings through this fear factor alone.

They were seemingly resigned to the fact that Tiger would somehow pull one out of his hat and win anyway, so they took their foot off the gas. Seth Godin would refer to this as The Dip. The space between you and the person in front of you is such a gap, that it is smarter to give up.

Thinking through the process of making yourself seem more unbeatable is fun. First you visualize everyone coming to you for advice. Next you see your competitors referencing you as an expert. Third is the constant stream of wins. As a Red Sox fan, I often saw the New York Yankees that way. It was impossible to get past them.

Who do you put in that framework? Don Bradman? Lance Armstrong? David Ogilvy? George Patton? Let me know in the comments?

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