Best-selling book finds way onto PGA TOURMcIlroy, McCormick have praised ‘The Obstacle is the Way’
May 01, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- May 01, 2019
Inside the PGA TOUR
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Author Ryan Holiday is admittedly not a golf guy. That would be his father, who lives in Kapalua, Maui. But golf and particularly FedExCup No. 3 Rory McIlroy — always a favorite at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow — have lately popped up on Holiday’s radar.
That’s because McIlroy, who won THE PLAYERS Championship in March, name-dropped four books during his long, introspective press conference at the Masters four weeks later. Two of them — “The Obstacle is the Way” and “The Ego is the Enemy” — were written by Holiday, who is more known in NFL circles and has immersed himself not in golf but Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“It’s been really amazing to see the books make their way through professional sports over the last few years, but this one was different because it was probably the first one that impressed my dad!” Holiday, 31, said via email this week. “I know I had heard Cameron McCormick had been recommending it to golfers recently, but really curious to hear about how Rory heard about it.”
McCormick, the well-known coach who works with Jordan Spieth and Kramer Hickok, among others, confirmed he has recommended the book but declined to elaborate.
Was there a Rory bump from the Masters? Hard to tell. The book is already a juggernaut — the No. 1 seller in Philosophy and Movements on Amazon’s Audible. Which is to say McIlroy could have heard about “The Obstacle is the Way” through a number of channels.
A 2014 release, the book preaches the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism — meeting obstacles with equanimity instead of unhelpful emotion. It has found disciples in, among others, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, NFL teams like the 2015 Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, and LL Cool J.
“Stoicism as a philosophy is really about the mental game,” Holiday said in a Sports Illustrated article in 2015, when the book was taking the NFL by storm.
Given how much time there is to think in golf, no wonder it’s now making its way to the course.
Still, for as much as it resonates with athletes, this is not nominally a sports book. The late tennis player Arthur Ashe and Alabama football coach Nick Saban show up in its pages, but mostly Holiday draws lessons from other leaders and achievers: John D. Rockefeller, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, U.S. presidents, Amelia Earhart. All of them, he argues, kept a cool head in lieu of flying off the handle, which dulls thinking and impedes right action.
For McIlroy, stoicism dovetailed nicely with his stated goals as he enters the next phase of his career: maintaining patience, looking at longer time horizons, and refusing to get caught up in the emotional bungee-jumping of results, i.e. not letting his happiness be dictated by his scores.
Perspective, Persistence and Poise.
The 15-time TOUR winner drew on all three at TPC Sawgrass as he answered all the questions about not closing — five straight top-six finishes but no wins going into PLAYERS week — and then claimed one of the most significant trophies of his career. Afterward, McIlroy said the big win, like all those close losses, wouldn’t change him. Because that’s stoicism, too.
“It's to make the most of the next 20 years of my career,” he said at the Masters of his mental approach, which now includes meditation and juggling. “It's not just about one week. This is a lifelong journey of trying to improve and learn and try to master my craft, which is golf.”
You could hear echoes of Holiday there. The author, who writes and raises cattle, goats and donkeys on a ranch outside Austin, Texas, has been fascinated by the response to his work. He was on vacation in Florida when he heard about the shout-out from the 2016 FedExCup winner.
“Completely unexpected and humbling,” Holiday said. Coincidentally, he added, he was already thinking a lot more about golf than usual. That’s because his next book, “Stillness is the Key,” will impart lessons gleaned in part from the career of one Tiger Woods.
“It’s fascinating to me the way that athletes have become voracious readers and how openly they share these recommendations,” Holiday said. “It’s obviously great for authors but I think it sets an even better example for young people. … When you write a book, you are basing it on your experiences and your research, but you just don’t know how it’s going to stand up under pressure when people go out and use it in real life, in their difficult jobs.
“Playing at the level that Rory plays at is quite a test of anyone’s material,” he continued, “so that he liked it enough to talk about it is a reward for the many frustrating hours I spent, alone at the keyboard, trying to get it right.”