Golfing, Phil Mickelson, and the American corporation


The American corporation is a magnificent creature, capable of acts of nimbleness and dynamism that make it the wonder of the institutional world and the envy of governments and not-for-profits.

Everyone would like to be this responsive…and almost no one but the corporation is.  (Imagine what a handful of fire breathing American corporations could do for the common good of France, Iraq or for that matter Canada?)

But there are pockets of resistance inside the corporation.  There are still time-servers and nay-sayers who harken back to another era.  These people happily spend the resources of the corporation making sure it is kept from its dynamic, most responsive, best.

Which brings me to the game of golf.  Let me put my cards on the table.  I don’t play golf.  I don’t spend a lot of time with people who do play.  This means I have failed the first objective of anthropological inquiry: to see the consumer, the activity, from the inside out.  But I am going to shoot my mouth off anyhow.  (Cause that’s what blogging’s for.)

Here’s what I suspect: that golf is a friend of the most anti-dynamic people in the corporation.  Golf is the time-server’s solace.  It is the nay-sayer’s comfort.  In sum, golf’s the friend of the enemy of the corporation.

Let me enter into evidence that fact the color commentators commit unashamed acts of aggression against the language. 

"He’s charging up the back 9." 

"Things got wild at Augusta again today." 

"They are duking it out on 7!" 

Wha?  This language is always applied to middle aged men of transcendental serenity delivering a tiny object up and down a park-like setting.  Charging?  Wild?  Duking?  I don’t think so.

But yesterday, I found evidence to the contrary.  Thanks to an ad from Rolex, I know there’s something more going on.  In the current issue of Forbes, an ad shows Phil Mickelson in action under the title "Golf Club or magic wand?"  The copy:
No one knows how he does it, but Phil Mickelson has become one of the game’s all-time greats by taking chances other pros won’t.  From skipping a ball off a lake on to the green for an eagle, to playing chip shots that fly backwards over his head, Phil’s daring and creative game is a magical thing to behold.
Now this is more like it.   It sounds like Mickelson is an exemplar of the new American corporation.  CEOs are now learning how to take chances other corporations won’t.  They are searching for way to skip opportunities off unlikely surfaces and play shots that appear to leave the competitive arena only to arc backwards into play.  Mickelson is a golfer these guys can relate to.  Maybe golf is a better training ground than I knew.

Lucky Rolex.  It looks like they signed up the one guy who looks like the new corporation.  But what do we say about the other players who look to golf for marketing exposure and celebrity endorsement?  Accenture, Royal Scottish Bank, insurance companies, office supplies, there are lots of companies that look to golf for marketing partnership and meaning manufacture.  Maybe, they are behind the curve or, more probably, I just don’t know what I’m talking about.


Anon.  2006.  Golf Club or Magic Wand [a four color, two page ad for Rolex].  Forbes.  May 7, 2006, pp. 16-17.  (if anyone knows the agency and creative team responsible for this campaign, please let me know.)


The photo is courtesy of Gaylord Sports Management, Mickelson’s agent in matters of celebrity endorsement here.   

7 thoughts on “Golfing, Phil Mickelson, and the American corporation

  1. anon

    Grant, you appear to have some extraneous text in that last hyperlink to the Gaylord site.

  2. Grant

    Anon, thanks for the head’s up, the entire post was riddled with little imprecisions. Typepad! Grant

  3. Jon

    I play golf. Not well, but I try. And I rail against the stagnant bureaucracies of my workplace in an effort to make us more responsive to our customers. Perhaps I am an exception.

    For some, golf is indeed a bucolic recreation, nothing more. But the game is difficult enough that most who play it seem to be continually frustrated (and thus fascinated) by it. Since it is difficult, and since the physical ajustments required to play well are so minute and difficult to control, it is a highly mental game. Two competitive individuals playing a friendly round might appear to the oobserver to be relaxing on an artifically green island, but are likely to be struggling internally with course strategy, shot visualization, swing mechanics, and trying to hold down their own feelings of frustration which could destroy their tenuous grasp of technique.

    These frustrations can lead players to forget the playing, and retreat into a hyperfocus on technique, but such a move rarely helps their play and these people usually abandon the game. In business, this might be the equivalent of becoming deadwood or holing up in a compliance-oriented part of the organization.

  4. Major Acid

    I don’t suppose you have a particular corporation or 10 in mind? Certainly not any of the corporations that are pillaging Iraq at the moment, like Haliburton … they may be nimble, but they are still pillagers. Mind you, the talents that make a successful criminal organization successful are the same talents that make non-criminal corporations successful, too, I suspect.

    And what about all those American corporations that are withering before our eyes, like the auto companies that are anything but “nimble” and “dynamic”, especially compared to some of their non-American competitors?

    There probably are great American corporations, and no doubt a corporation with great leadership and a dynamic workforce could go a long way to solving political problems (in the USA as well as any of the countries you mentioned for comic effect)if directed to do so … but they won’t because political problems are not what corporations are designed to solve.

    And torturing Phil Mickelson into the mix … not all that helpful. He still seems successful as much in spite of himself as because of himself. He is changing, though, and I suppose that is a sign of a successful corporation, too … the willingness and ability to change to thrive.

    Okay, I’ll give you the Mickelson thing. But the blanket enthusiasm for corporations? Not so much.

  5. Susan Dobscha

    Hey Grant (we met and had dinner at ACR in Portland with Susan Fournier, Jonathan Schroeder and Janet Borgeson) I won’t chastise you too much for not including your email address on your blog because maybe I’m just too dense to find it but I wanted to say hello and let you know that my students at Bentley started a blog this semester in which each of them tracked a marketing blog and wrote their thoughts about individual postings.

    I included the url so maybe you could check it out and comment on the use of blogs in the classroom. They’ve been pretty pleased with the response from their “parent” bloggers, many of whom have responded to their comments.

    Hope to catch up with you soon (Orlando, perhaps?)

    Susan Dobscha, Associate Professor of Marketing, Bentley College

  6. Michele

    Love the blog and love Michelson. You DO know what you are talking about. I think the other companies are still seeing golf as a rich man’s leisurely activity. I guess they never met all of the young players. . .Tiger?
    Maybe we should get you on “the links” with Steve if you want a first hand account of the pain and glory and pain of the game.
    (Don’t take a camera!)

  7. Golf Platzrief

    Love the blog and love Michelson. You DO know what you are talking about. I think the other companies are still seeing golf as a rich man’s leisurely activity. I guess they never met all of the young players. . .Tiger?
    Maybe we should get you on “the links” with Steve if you want a first hand account of the pain and glory and pain of the game.
    (Don’t take a camera!)

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