For many sports fans and probably all golf fans, the Masters is a four-day love affair with the gorgeous spring green of Georgia, which has not yet crept North, but promises to.
It’s a series of unbelievable shots, the best of which are the bad ones hit by the world’s most-talented golfers on to greens the composition of lumpy pool tables.
It’s the world’s most prestigious golf tournament, that in the end confers a wildly out-of-date green blazer that some people would value above the British crown.
Among the many lessons offered last weekend, there was a singular one for crisis and media training: You can learn a lot from Jordan Spieth, and not just from his golf game.
The 20-year-old phenom, who may or may not be the next Tiger Woods, played superior golf, finishing tied for second and playing the last round with the eventual winner, Bubba Watson. But it was how Spieth acted and spoke that demonstrated the lessons in this vein.
The reason for our collective fascination, though, goes beyond the simple fact that he’s young and plays golf at a high level. That’s remarkable, but what sets Spieth apart from the legions of talented young golfers is the total, unflinching composure he shows in public. This is usually described as maturity, but to me, Spieth is more like an ultra-polished golfing Übermensch dreamed up at a PR think tank. He’s the kind of player who never says the words “Nicklaus” or “Palmer” without attaching a reverent “Mr.” at the front, and who, in the rare moments when he shows his youth, apologizes immediately afterward.
He’s not boring, though; he can be witty, very insightful. He’s religious enough that he attends the PGA Tour Bible study meetings with players like Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, but he doesn’t speak about it on camera. Like many golfers, he lightly despises the media, but conceals it with patience and charm. The diligence with which his team protects him is totally unnecessary; this isn’t a player like Tiger Woods who will get caught making a racy joke, swearing profusely on camera, or, heaven forbid, frolicking with strange women. He gives you just enough to write your story, and then disappears.
Spieth displays good timing and a sense of humor. On Saturday when discussing which players he called “Mr.,” he suggested he’d use that with Watson Sunday.
“Yeah, Mr. Watson, for sure,” Spieth said, smiling. “Just because it’ll mess with him.”
As was reported over the weekend in SFGate:
Some of Spieth’s old-soul poise traces to his relationship with his 12-year-old sister, Ellie, who was born with a neurological disorder and attends school with other special-needs children back home in Texas. Spieth often volunteered in Ellie’s classrooms when she was younger, and he has said her daily struggle makes him stronger.
So what lessons may we learn? Even under pressure and in crisis, it’s good to be calm and natural; even when you can talk about leading the Masters and losing it, be gracious about the competition; smile when you talk; don’t practice what you’re going to say to such an extent that you appear robotic, but practice what you want to say; smile when you talk; use a little humor if the situation warrants it; self-deprecating can be self-supporting; you control the interview, because you have the information the media want.
If you watched Spieth — not to mention the what-you-see-is-what-you-get, down-to-earth Watson, over the four days, you saw a good model of how to handle the media, compete at the highest level of your profession and turn a second-place finish into a win.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.