Golf and Leadership: Chris Coffey on Improving After 60

Chris Coffey is a 74-year old leadership coach and the co-founder of Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching®. Chris grew up in Danbury, Connecticut and his first job at 10 years old was to caddie at a country club. 

He caddied all the way through college to support himself. Back then, there were no electric carts, so carrying one bag for 18 holes earned him $2.50 plus a tip. Caddies were allowed to play on Mondays, but he didn’t care much for golf back then and rarely played. 

Over the next 40 years, Chris usually played golf with rented clubs whenever the mood struck. He would simply swing hard and let it fly. People often commented that he had a nice swing and showed a lot of potential — the only problem was that he needed to practice in order to master it, but he was not motivated to. 

When he turned 60,  Chris lost a couple of good friends to cancer and realized how short life really is. He then decided to play more golf and ski. After a few rounds of golf, he realized that he was not 25 anymore. If he really wanted to play seriously, he needed to take golf lessons. 

After seeing him hit a few balls, the golf trainer said, “It looks like you’ve never had any golf lessons before” — which was true. Then, the trainer asked him a very important question, one that Chris has continued to use in leadership coaching. 

“How good do you want to be?”

Chris said that he wanted to be a single-digit handicapped and play to it. The trainer then asked him if he was willing to put in the effort to get there, and Chris said yes. Chris’ first lesson was on the importance of the grip. The trainer asked Chris to practice gripping the club properly 20 times a day. However, Chris was traveling a lot during this time, so he did not have the time to practice it regularly — and it showed. 

The trainer told Chris that he would never become a single-digit handicap without the discipline to do what he was being taught. However, Chris never found the willingness to put in the effort at that time. 

One day, a friend invited him to play golf, so Chris began to practice feverishly for the trip and successfully got down to 14 handicaps. But this drive was gone once he got back from the trip and he began to play less golf again. He played golf occasionally over the next few years, and he realized that he was not improving — so he started to take lessons again and put more effort into it. 

After taking more lessons and continuing to practice, he got his handicap down to 11. Chris, however, was still determined to achieve his initial goal to become a single-digit handicapped golfer. At this point, he was already 71 years old, but he was still interested in getting better.  

“What I’m teaching you is simple, but it’s not easy”

During his golf lessons, he became aware of the parallels between golf instruction and leadership coaching. 

One of Chris’ favorite expressions on leadership coaching is “What I’m teaching you is simple, but it’s not easy.” This expression can be applied to both golf and behavioral change. 

In golf, the behaviors you want to change would be:

  • The grip
  • Ball placement
  • Spine angle
  • Takeaway
  • Hip turn

In leadership coaching, the behaviors you want to change can be:

  • Listening without interrupting
  • Defer to someone’s point of view
  • Build off other’s ideas

All of these behaviors are very simple to describe and understand, yet they can be very challenging to incorporate into our behavioral DNA with consistency and when under pressure. 

In one of his lessons, Chris’ coach described something and Chris claimed that he understood it. When the coach asked him to demonstrate it,  it became clear that understanding something does not mean that you can do it properly and consistently. 

With good instruction and ample motivation, Chris began to enjoy his golf lessons. His workouts became repeated, purposeful, and focused. He could clearly see the improvement, and all he needed to do was take it to the course. 

Creating positive self-fulfilling prophecies

Chris turned 74 in January 2021. In February, at Rancho Park, he crossed a very important item off his bucket list. 

One fine morning in February, when Chris got to the course, he discovered that one of the two players that joined him was a professional golf player. At that point, Chris was 1 over par himself. However, he wanted to challenge himself and compete against the limitations of his own mind. 

That day, he successfully shot his age and continued to achieve that a couple more times after that. 

Oftentimes, we are our biggest limiting factor. We often create self-fulfilling prophecies — both positive and negative. When you don’t think that you can do something, it’s so easy to prove yourself correct. 

Chris decided to share this story to inspire people over 60 who don’t think they can play better golf, become a more effective leader, or do anything else they want —  do not limit yourself.

It’s time that we create positive self-fulfilling prophecies. With courage, let’s take a look at ourselves in the mirror and set goals to challenge ourselves. With discipline, build a plan on how to achieve your goals and stick to it. And lastly, have some humility — admit that you’re not perfect, that you might not make it on your own or on your first try. 

Potential greatness is in you — not the equipment

Your golf club, your business books, our stakeholder-centered coaching program — are all just tools for you to use. It’s up to you to execute what you’ve learned and achieve greatness. 

What are you waiting for? Just do it. 

Coaches & leaders, we need your support!

For more than 20 years, Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching® has built the coaching industry with our unique approach to leadership development and quantifiable results in coaching.

Last year, our co-founder and Master Coach Chris Coffey was the world’s #7 Global Coaching Guru (2021). While MGSCC® was dubbed as the world’s #1 Coaching Development Program by Global Gurus — all thanks to you.

Now, with your support, we would like to reach #1 for both categories in this year’s award season.

See how you can show your support for Chris and MGSCC® at this year’s Global Gurus Awards by clicking on the link below.


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