Grit . . . a lesson for everyone


I hate golf!  Okay, to be more honest, golf hates me.  That is, I just don’t have an affinity for the game, even though I did try on numerous occasions, with lessons and everything.  I even lived for a long time in “golf heaven”, that is, the Carmel – Pebble Beach – Monterey area of California (with more top class golf courses per square mile than anywhere else on earth).

But I do enjoy watching the game, especially when it is played by the pros and of course this past week was the US Open at the Merion Golf Club, Pennsylvania. And of course every time I watch golf, I can’t help thinking about perhaps the greatest golfer of all time, Ben Hogan.

But this post isn’t about golf, it’s about “grit“, courage and determination. Here’s a quick definition of the personality trait I call “grit”: the drive and determination to tirelessly work through challenges, failures, and adversity to achieve set goals.

Early one foggy Texas morning in 1949 Ben and his wife, Valerie, were driving across a bridge Ben Hogan Carwhen a Greyhound bus pulled out to pass a slow car and crashed head-on into the Hogan’s car.  Ben, who was driving, threw himself in front of his wife in an effort to shield her, an act which saved his life since the steel steering column was driven inward and passed straight through the driver’s seat.  Hogan sustained multiple injuries (double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collarbone, fractured left ankle, chipped ribs and near fatal blood clots) and doctors pronounced that he would never walk again, let alone play golf.

But they didn’t know about “grit” and they definitely misdiagnosed the determination and perseverance that makes an ordinary person into a champion. Ben slowly recovered, left the hospital 59 days later, and began his comeback.  After all, the US Open was only a few months away and he had to play.

With ace bandages around both legs and his ribs, Hogan was just behind the leaders going into the 14th hole, but the pain and exhaustion was beginning to take its toll. On the long walk between the 13th and 14th hole, Hogan had a moment of doubt.  He said dejectedly to his caddy, “You go on to the clubhouse, I will meet you there and pay you for the day.”

hogan0_1_2589821cThe caddy, who must have had his “Wheaties” that day, allegedly replied: “Mr. Hogan, I didn’t sign up to caddy for a quitter.  I’ll be waiting at the 14th tee.”

Hogan went on to tie the leaders that day, forcing a playoff, which he won in dramatic fashion.  Many of those who religiously follow golf call it the greatest comeback every in the sport of golf. Ben Hogan was elected into the Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 and died in 1997 at the age of 84.

Grit makes champions.  Grit makes people come back from “impossible” odds and extreme adversity to reach their goals and dreams. Win, tie or lose, grit is what it takes to be where you want to be.  Grit trumps talent every time.

Note: I wrote this post especially for my daughter, Stephanie, who is determinedly making a comeback after a wrist injury has forced her to miss several recent violin competitions.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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5 Responses to Grit . . . a lesson for everyone

  1. Mick brody says:

    Great story and message, John. Best of luck to your daughter in her recovery!


  2. Love his post John. Speedy recovery for your daughter.


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