How Do You Measure Success When You Don’t Win?

If you’re a golf fan like me, you likely watched the (British) Open tournament on the weekend. I watched most of the final round which was basically match play between Phil Mickelson and Hendrik Stenson, which turned out to be one of the best rounds of golf ever played.

It was incredible golf. Both players played exceptionally well, probably their best golf of their careers during one of the most challenging rounds of golf…the final round of a major tournament. Shot after shot, these guys were in a class all alone on this day.


Until this weekend, the final round of the 1997 British Open, featuring Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson was thought to be the best round ever played in the history of the game. It was named, “The duel in the sun.”

But even Jack himself argued that the round played by Mickelson and Stenson was even better…

Nicklaus wrote on Sunday: “Some in the media have already tried to compare today’s final round to 1977 at Turnberry, with Tom Watson and me in what they called the ‘Duel in the Sun.’ I thought we played great and had a wonderful match.

“On that day, Tom got me, 65-66. Our final round was really good, but theirs was even better. What a great match today.”


Mickelson, who is 46 and considered old by PGA standards, was trying to become the fourth-oldest major winner and win his sixth major. His score of 267 was 11 strokes better than third-place and would have won 140 of the 145 Opens played.

Incredible golf. Which won him second place. 

Second place isn’t new for Phil though. In fact he’s been the runner-up in a major 11 times. 11 times! He’s like the Buffalo Bills of the PGA. (Actually Jack Nicklaus finished second a record 19 times in majors to go along with his 18 major victories). But you know what I mean. Well, if you don’t, The NFL Buffalo Bills played and lost 4 consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1993.

And I heard words like “losers” and “failure” to describe the only team in history to play 4 championship games in a row.

Yes they lost 4 in a row but, failure?

I guess it depends on how you measure success.

When my children brought home report cards I was not only interested in the grades they received, but how they got them. Did they coast? Did they give it their best effort?

A “C” that they worked for was better than the “A” they didn’t work for. At least in my mind it was.

How we do something is as important as what we are doing, don’t you think?

That’s also why I enjoyed the golf on Sunday. Not only did I get to see two golfers playing at the top of their games, in the most pressure situation possible, I watched them play with class, respect and sportsmanship.

They encouraged each other, supported each other and even cheered for each other. And when it was all over, they walked off the 18th green with arms around each other. They had just battled each other for 5 hours and in the mix of joy an disappointment they did it with class.

I like that. I think that matters.

“How we do something is as important as what we are doing”

 I think it matters how you and I do things too.

I’m all about setting goals, reaching for new things, striving for something better. I’m all for getting the job done too. But not at all costs.

Another way of saying it is, the process for reaching our goals is as important as the result we’re after.

Marten Seligman who pioneered Positive Psychology, argues that we are only as happy as when we live by our values and strengths.

Sacrificing them to reach a goal will leave us empty and rob us of meaning. (More on this in my next blog post)

If Phil Mickelson or Hendrik Stenson avoided each other all day; if they never spoke; if they were critical of the other in the press; if they broke their clubs after a bad shot and found joy in the others’ misfortune, then the best round ever played would be less so. At least in my mind.

Why? Because how we play, how we work, how we treat others, how we respond to challenges along the way to our goals is equally important to the goals themselves. And to me that’s success.

Was Mickelson successful on Sunday? In winning his 6th major? No. In how he competed for his 6th major? Absolutely.

It was a round of golf I will never forget. And both players won.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? How do you measure success in your own life? I’d love to hear from you.


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