Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

On April 14, Tiger Woods won his fifth US Masters title, at the age of 43, after years in the sporting wilderness. In a nonsporting context, I might normally take the time to explain the meaning of the tournament and of Woods himself. But this is Tiger Woods — there are relatively few people who, over the past 22 years, will not have heard of him and not know what the US Masters represents.

Last Sunday’s win was poignant because Woods first won the US Masters 22 years ago, in 1997, and last won it 14 years ago, in 2005.

In fact, the last time Woods won any major golf tournament was in 2008 — more than 11 years ago.

Imagine that: 11 years without a major win, and then winning in such a manner. Imagine being on top for so many years — as Woods was until 2008 — then crashing down, and staying down, only to climb back to the top after a long, difficult decade.

Woods’ tale is the comeback story of the year, not just in sport but also, it seems, in life. It’s possibly even the comeback story of the decade.

At a time in which so many of our vocations seem to be threatened by, co-mingled with or even already partially replaced by technological or artificially intelligent equivalents, there is something uniquely affirming about being reminded of the triumph of the human spirit. It is a triumph that is not achieved simply through luck, timing or rising tides, but through reassessing game plans, hard work, practice, resilience, grit and determination.

So Woods’ achievement is an important and timely reminder: to rise in such a manner, you must first fall.

As investors, we have certainly seen several falls in the recent past — "fallen angels", we call them in the market. These were companies we admired — that we remember recently riding the crest of a wave in terms of business and share price performance, only to see them come crashing down.

This list of fallen angels on the SA stock market is growing.

Success is achieved through teamwork, even if an individual is the face of the ultimate success

It includes some that were market darlings three or four years ago: Aspen, British American Tobacco, Tiger Brands, Pioneer, Mediclinic and Woolworths. We could add other former leaderboard shares, including Coronation, Wilson Bayly Holmes, Massmart, Capital & Counties and Blue Label Telecoms.

The essential questions in their respective paths to recovery, and perhaps to reinstatement of their champion status, have to centre on the elements within their control — the things they can do to restore their performance rather than simply be passive beneficiaries of a recovery in the environment around them. For example: to accurately read their customers’ changing consumption patterns and adapt their product mix accordingly; to allocate capital more astutely as they invest to maintain relevance; to allocate management time and energy wisely in favour of high probability outcomes and not blind commitment to poor decisions of the past; to have the right board members asking the right questions; and to proactively manage their cost base to weather all seasons.

And then, when it takes time for all these things to fall into place, to do what Woods did to help him win: keep doing all the little things correctly; just keep plodding along.

A collaborative effort

Stock investors focus on the idiosyncratic possibilities of individual stocks that may be missed by the broader market from time to time. But the one comeback kid we’re all rooting for is SA’s economy.

As Woods demonstrated after his inspirational win — saying to his caddy and manager: "We did it!" — all real success stories are achieved through teamwork, even if a single individual is the face of the ultimate success.

The comeback of SA’s economy doesn’t depend solely on who wins the May 8 election or on what policies they enact, or even on the level of US interest rates.

We know what it will take: the combined focus of all players (government, business, investors, citizens and society); clear, honest and realistic strategies for how to get there; rehabilitation of damaged confidence; regaining broken trust; tireless work and practice; and reading the terrain accurately. And, then, just a little help from the wind.

• Govender is chief investment officer of Perpetua Investment Managers