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How to Win

Finishing Second

Jack Nicklaus finished second more often than any other player in the history of men’s major golf tournaments.

This made him a winner. How? Finishing second 19 times means that on 19 occasions, Nicklaus put himself into position to finish first. It didn’t happen. But it COULD have.

On 18 other occasions, Nicklaus put himself into position to win, and he did.

So look at the math. Nicklaus finished either first or second in 37 major golf tournaments. He wound up winning more majors than anyone else in history. In the others, there was some frustration, some disappointment, and lots of learning.

All this comes to mind because of Tiger Woods’ shocking collapse yesterday in the PGA tournament, the last major of 2009. After losing to Y.E. Yang, Woods pointed out that he was in control of the tournament most of the way. Instead, Woods finished second for the sixth time in his career.

Would you take those odds? If someone told you that you would be in control of most of your games, would you take it? Of course!

Staying close is a key to competition. Charlie Dressen, a famous baseball manager, once said, “Hold ’em. I’ll think of something.”

In other words, if you can stay close, you can figure out a way to win. Or maybe a break will go your way.

Unfortunately for Dressen, it works the other way. It you ALLOW an opponent to stay close, bad things can happen. In 1951, Dressen’s Brooklyn Dodgers owned a huge lead in the pennant race. But the New York Giants made it close, and finally won on Bobby Thomson’s home run. But If the Dodgers had held their lead, there would have been no Thomson homer.

Years ago, while watching a baseball game in the pressbox, I remarked to a friend that one team had been lucky to take the lead because an easy ground ball took a bad bounce and became a hit instead of an out.

“The bounce only mattered because the score was close,” my friend said. “If the score was 10-0, no one would have noticed it.”

Standout football coach Bill Parcells once said that it’s easy to take a bad team and make it into a decent team. Taking a decent team and turning it into a great team is much harder. But there’s a real advantage to becoming a decent team, namely, a decent team can make the playoffs. And once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.

In Super Bowl XV, the Oakland Raiders became the first NFL team to win a championship after qualifying for the playoffs as a wild card. In other words, they finished second, and still won the title!

As with Jack Nicklaus, finishing second made them champions! So figure out a way to get close. You will win more.


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