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Tiger Woods and Howard Schultz, change agents

The Masters — a tradition unlike any other — started Thursday. I’m a casual golf fan at best, but have been intrigued by all the chatter surrounding Tiger Woods in the run up to the first tee time.

Not just the “will he win?” questions, which are dominating the sports talk. I’m more interested in whether he’ll win given the reportedly radical reinvention of his game in recent months.

The world’s former No. 1 golfer, a fixture of major tournament leaderboards for 15 years, is overhauling his swing. He’s retained a new coach. He’s apparently even bought a new home (dubbed the “slickest bachelor pad in human history” in this somewhat breathless account), all in the wake, of course, of the highly publicized implosion of his marriage.

Whether or not Woods is finished as a dominant golfer is an open question, and this story at Slate makes the interesting statistical case that he’s not. As I write this, he’s even par for the tournament, 10 strokes back from leader Rory McIlroy.

What really intrigues me is Woods’ willingness to radically overhaul his game by revamping his swing. It’s a huge gamble. It reminds me of Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks.

That’s because Schultz has been in the news recently hawking a book, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul.”

It chronicles the return of Schultz to the coffee giant in 2008, when Starbucks was struggling. What ensued over the next three years was what this report on NPR called an “extensive transformation” that included closing 7,000 stores for several hours in order to retrain employees in what Schultz believed were core values that had been lost.

A note on the door of the stores read:

“We’re taking time to perfect our espresso.
Great espresso requires practice.
That’s why we’re dedicating ourselves to honing our craft.”

Breakfast sandwiches, the way milk should be steamed for espresso — everything was on the table, including an aggressive growth strategy in the U.S. and overseas.

Not all the reviews of the book have been glowing. This Wall Street Journal writeup has a problem with the “unabashedly promotional” account that results from Schultz writing the book (with the help of a former Forbes staffer).

“Among his grandiose conceits is to compare the cultural influence of Starbucks with that of the Beatles and to refer to his employees as ‘partners.’ They aren’t really partners, as many discovered when Mr. Schultz closed 600 stores beginning in 2008. In the same dime-store inspirational vein, he italicizes the content of his emails and speeches, as if every word were transcendent. ‘The power of this company is you.’ Mr. Schultz’s evangelism notwithstanding, these ephemera are not the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Ouch.

That aside, I’m still interested in reading this book in hopes of learning what was going on inside Schultz’s head as he set out revamping the company. Was he anxious? Was it simply driven by numbers? How would it impact the corporate culture?

Such radical reinventions — in golf and in business — rise and fall on a precise reading of the green.