What Motivates You to Pursue Excellence?

Photo of the author on the range working with the driver.

Photo of the author on the range working with the driver.

What gets you up in the morning to go work on your golf game?

As human beings, we are motivated either one of two ways; extrinsically (pursuit of money, titles, things, etc.),  or intrinsically (praise for a job well done, solving a tough problem, or the self satisfaction of simply improving at something).  Don’t say “both” because you favor one or the other.  Which is it?

I returned from a session at the driving range today, where I was practicing something new, and started wondering why I keep working at this crazy game.  I see bits of improvement here and there but basically maintain the same level of competence from year to year.  What’s my motivation?  I realized that the simple pursuit of improvement (the journey) was providing me the greatest amount of satisfaction.  It keeps me going and definitely puts me in the intrinsic camp.

I like where I’m sitting after reading Mark Manson’s new article, “The Disease of More” where he details the travails of the 1980 Los Angeles Lakers and of folks in general who experience success too fast.  The “Disease”was originally coined by Pat Riley (Lakers coach) who portended that championship teams are often dethroned not by other better teams but by forces that demotivate within their own organization.  The Lakers reached the pinnacle and weren’t content to be a great basketball team.  They lost their motivation by pursuing more money, cars, women, endorsements, and other objects outside of basketball, which ultimately led to their downfall.  Sound like someone we know in the golf world?

From espn.com

From espn.com

I would love to get inside the head of two individuals and understand their motivation.  The first is Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.  Nick has the titles, he has the dollars, he has the legacy, but I hear him speak often in very process oriented terms.  He sometimes seems joyless in victory because his teams failed to execute on some fine detail of his game plan.  Is it possible he is totally intrinsically motivated in his pursuit of perfection, and views all the victories and championships as a simple extrinsic reward that comes naturally with success, but doesn’t particularly excite him?

The second is Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach.  We are all fascinated by his level of achievement and the secrecy that surrounds his thinking and operation.  Does he want to stick it to the world?  Become the greatest coach of all time?  Or does he just enjoy the grind of a head-to-head match-up across the field from a peer on a weekly basis?  What goes on behind those beady eyes and under that hood?  A lot of good secrets for sure.  If he ever writes a book, I’ll be first in line.

photo from durangoherald.com

photo from durangoherald.com

As a full time desk jockey and a part time golfer, I’m thankful for my intrinsic tendencies and my ability to hold the line on the quality of my game.  For me, the joy is in the never ending journey.  What about you?  Play well!


About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
This entry was posted in Instruction, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What Motivates You to Pursue Excellence?

  1. Brian

    Great article. I am motivated intrinsically. It is the journey and personal pursuit that motivates me to play golf. Although it is nice to win a tournament, it is not the deciding factor to me playing golf. Thanks for making me think.


    • Brian Penn says:

      Hi Jim, no surprise there. Your appreciation for the process and the journey of improvement shines bright in your articles at The Grateful Golfer. For that we are all grateful.

      With the fickle nature of this game, I actually think it’s easier for those motivated intrinsically than otherwise. A guy like Tiger who’s clearly extrinsically motivated has got to be struggling and would be much better off immersing in the process of improvement rather than staring at Jack Nicklaus’ major record in the face every day.



      • Brian

        I think as the professionals and amateurs get older, they become more intrinsic. They realize that the opportunities to win and be at the top of the heap becomes more difficult. Those how do not accept the mental and physical shift struggle a great deal as we see with Tiger. He is not the only player, but the most obvious. I think Jack was a unique mixture of both because of acceptance of his game as he got older. I wonder where players like Spieth, Day, McIlroy, and Johnston will be in 5 years?


        • Brian Penn says:

          Jim, and then you get guys like Tom Watson who despite their age, can still make a run. His attempt at The Open a few years back was fascinating. He actually thought he could win at 59 years old, and as I understand it, he was crushed after coming so close. I wonder what his motivation is/was? Of the four you mentioned, I’d guess Speith and DJ would last the longest as far as melding motivation and physical and mental ability. Rory is definitely extrinsic and Day seems a little too injury prone. We’ll see!


  2. Brian,

    I too am motivated by the journey as well as the satisfaction of achieving things that aren’t easy or trivial. Maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment (same reason I got my engineering degree as well). The best part is that it never ends. There is always more to strive towards and achieve in this game no matter where you get to.

    Good read. Thanks.


    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, I haven’t competed seriously in 20 years, and while I do miss the competition, I find the game more challenging and mentally stimulating than ever. In a way, golfing is like fishing; you can get total pleasure immersed in the process alone. I think the intrinsics have it on this page!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s