Bubba Watson celebrates in his green jacket with Charl Schwartzel during The Masters at Augusta … [+]
When a lot of people hear the term “leader,” they immediately think of someone in a position of authority, such as a coach or a president. But leadership isn’t about being in a position of power – it’s about being able to empower and meet your team’s needs. When you are part of a team, you can always be asked to reinforce and lead. Great teams have team members ready to fill the gap and help others find the way forward.
This “team mate” is rarely the seventh best in the world in his job.
United States vice-captain Bubba Watson looks on from the third tee during the singles games of … [+]
In 2016, the US Ryder Cup team went through a period of deep introspection to find out why they couldn’t beat their European counterparts in the previous three cups. The answer was that while the US had many of the world’s best individual players, the Europeans played better as a team. In response, the American Cup leadership worked hard to forge a true team identity instead of settling for just being a bunch of star individuals. And it found its inspiration in the character of a place that many thought was unlikely: Bubba Watson.
Imagine it’s 2016 and you are Bubba Watson. You are currently the seventh best golfer in the world and have already won a number of Masters Championship victories. Sponsors want their names on their bags, caps and shirts because your brand stands for hard work, excellence and a certain cheeky American flair. And then it’s time for the Ryder Cup, a great international competition, and you won’t be selected for Team USA. The same Team USA that you did before when you were lower on the leaderboard.
How do you react in this moment of heartbreak? Are you pouting Do you beat team captain Davis Love III and grumble about the injustice of it all? Are you doing without your former team? Watson chose a different answer.
“I asked Davis what I could do to serve this team,” Watson recalled on a recent episode of the Corporate Competitor Podcast. “I told him how much the Ryder Cup means to my family and me. . . how it was the last event my father saw me play and what it felt like to serve my country. I told him that I would like to be vice-captain. “
“You know what vice captains do, don’t you?” Love answered. “They serve. You will have to work your tail off.” But Watson was way ahead of him.
Brandt Snedeker from the USA on the seventh green with Vice-Captain Bubba Watson during … [+]
“I told Davis I wasn’t coming here for a show,” said Watson. “I wanted to be there to serve the 12 guys selected before me in any way I could, whether to help them get a point or a trophy, or to get them more golf balls or water bottles or to carry their bags to their car. I’ve been on Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams so I knew what the new members had to do. “I think I can help the boys,” I said to Davis. “On the first day the Ryder Cup team gathered at their team hotel in Chaska, Minnesota, the seventh-placed player in the world went to see Ryan Moore, the rookie who had beaten him for the last team seat and loaded his luggage and golf bag and his wife’s luggage and wheeled them to Moore’s room and wished the beginner good luck.
When Watson reappeared in the lobby, where many of the sport’s most famous names stood waiting for their bags to be removed, his colleagues greeted him with open astonishment and awe. Tiger Woods shook his head and intoned something that Love said he could never have done. But Watson did, and more. All week he was the first to get up in the morning to help his teammates prepare for the competition and the last to leave the team room after the meetings. When he received a text message from Love at 3 a.m., he wasn’t annoyed about being woken up, but he felt exactly the pressure Love must have exerted to write to Watson at that time of the night – and answered suddenly.
Watson was just as careful with the details of preparing for the competition, only this time his focus was on “making sure the sandwiches were made properly for each player, and that they had enough bottled water and were wearing the right outfits.” After all, golf is nothing more than a game of rules. Never camera shy, Watson avoided the media. “I only gave interviews afterwards,” he remarked. “I didn’t want anything about myself; it was all about these 12 guys and Davis Love. “
But it was between the ropes, as professional golfers like to call their workplace, where Watson demonstrated the purest form of servant leadership, switching back and forth between Moore and his teammate Brandt Snedeker and acting as a coach, guide and mentor throughout the competition their European opponents. Watson even brought in his longtime caddy, Ted Scott, to provide the team’s caddy corps with the same support he gave the players.
And guess what? After the Americans lost the last three Ryder Cups, the Americans beat the Europeans in 2016, with Watson’s protégés winning crucial games.
USA Vice-Captain Bubba Watson (left), USA-Captain Davis Love III (center) and USA-Vice-Captain … [+]
Sports file via Getty Images
Golf is one of the most individual sports and Watson, who has cultivated his brand “Bubba from Baghdad” to public acclaim, is one of the most individual players. But he’s learned a lesson that any business leader would wisely take to heart when the next challenge breaks the normal chain of command: victory together is greater than a single success. Being ready to become a great teammate is the ultimate act of servant leadership.
Watson is an avid businessman with interests in the Blue Wahoos Minor League baseball team, car dealership, and candy store in Pensacola, Florida. However, he admits that he would be serving as Vice-Captain of Team USA again in a heartbeat. “It really opened my eyes to one of my callings that you could say inspire people, help them.”
The conversation is always lively when Bubba Watson has something to say. Listen now!