Seve Ballesteros Syndrome
Maurice Duffy

Written by Maurice Duffy

As I watched the Ryder Cup I could not help but note the use of Seve Ballesteros as a motivational energy source for the European Ryder Cup Team. Over the three days as we moved towards the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ the spectre of Seve grew more ubiquitous.

We have the ‘plane in air’ messages, coupled with umpteen tributes in the press and on the media, increasing references to Seve as the excitement mounted and as the European players seemed to look for strength from sentimentality. This connection seemed to draw the players together and was used by Olazabal in a “do it for Seve” kind of way.

It is fascinating what effect giving people a sense of purpose and a common connection can have. Recent studies have affirmed that top business leaders are increasingly examining the sophisticated processes, concepts, strategies and plans employed by elite sports professionals to gain a competitive advantage. Elite sports isa powerful metaphor for business leadership, and there are no doubt some striking parallels. Businesses need to be ultra-competitive, manage the smallest margins which can be the difference between winning and losing, achieve stretch goals and targets, establish long-term and short-term strategies and tactics, have the ethos of hard work, relentless energy perseverance, determination, teamwork, and ability to deal with success and to recover from failure and setbacks. These key challenges are dominant in both worlds.

I had the fantastic opportunity of working with Peter Vidmar on a number of occasions (first guy in history to score the perfect 10 on the pommel horse—US Capt, business lecturer, author and all round good guy). Peter taught again and again that sports and business alike rely on the focused ability to continually move performance to ever higher levels. Peter often used the example that if you replicated to 101% his performance at the Los Angeles Olympics where he scored perfection, four years later you would be in the top 20 in the world and four years thereafter not in top 50 in the world. So why are businesses so hung up on benchmarking? Elite athletes know it’s about going beyond what is currently thought of as perfection. In sports what you achieve this year will never be good enough next year. We need to mimic Peter’s beliefs—Risk, Originality, Virtuosity—to take risks, do the ordinary in an extraordinary way, and be relentlessly original.

We need to keep raising the bar, creating an unrelenting demand to find new and innovative methods to ensure performance and success that may seem, even impossibly, out of reach.  

In the words of Roger Bannister “Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead”.

I remember going into an Under-5 football coaching forum, and written on the wall were words for Dads that I think many leaders could take from Under-5 coaching. I know if they were applied they would make the workplace a more fun, engaging and productive place in which to spend a significant part of your life. Maybe we can all learn from these lines. I know I wish I had implemented them more often.

  • Treat players with respect, and you will earn their respect.
  • Try to understand each player on the team well enough to be able to identify their specific strengths and weaknesses.
  • Lead by example - if you expect players to be on time, then you should never be late for a meeting yourself.
  • Share your strategy with your players. It is much easier for players to support a strategy if they understand it.
  • Remain decisive and confident. A coach's confidence can be contagious. If the players know that you believe in them, then they might start believing in themselves too.
  • Finally, instruct players in a positive manner. Tell them what you want them to do, not what you don't want them to do.


Now maybe if Tiger Woods had struck true to his own words the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ may never have happened. He too may have been able to draw on inspiration from the grave—as Tiger once said—“My dad has always taught me these words: care and share. That's why we put on clinics. The only thing I can do is try to give back. If it works, it works”.

The Miracle at Medinah—Seve’s legacy to golf: yes/no?