It was subtle. I noticed it before the commentators did and I was certain they missed it, but retired pro-golfer and fine announcer for in this case, CBS-TV, Nick Faldo saw it too. On the 17th hole of the final round of the Professional Golf Association Championship in at Whistling Straits in Kenosha, Wisonsin, a show of sportsmanship shifted Professional Golf. The leader and eventual winner, Australian Jason Day had a 65 foot putt. It wasn’t a win or lose putt, since Day was leading Texan, Jordan Speith, by three strokes and only the 18th hole remaining. Still, 22 year old Speith has taken the golf world by storm this year winning two of the four major tournaments in the world. Winning a third would put him in the same lofty space as the likes of Tiger Woods, especially when Woods was doing the same in his early 20’s in the late 90’s. Yet, as Day cooly stroked the ball within a foot, Speith, his pairing mate, stuck his left thumb up towards Day and as his opponent came to mark his ball, the microphones picked up Speith adding a “Great Shot Jason”!
You may be asking, “What’s the big deal?” and maybe it isn’t a big deal, but what Nick Faldo said was a big deal to me. I’m paraphrasing but he said how refreshing it is to see two young up and coming golfers show each other such mutual respect and for Speith in particular, at 22 years old, showing such genuine sportsmanship. But this goes to a bigger subject and one near and dear to me.
Obviously, having no arms meant I couldn’t play the game of golf, but my Dad loved the game. Playing it and watching it on TV. I am old enough to have been able to see the greats like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on TV, and my Dad and I watched them together whenever we had a chance. One of my fondest memories in myt childhood was walking the course with Dad while he played, often just the two of us and right here at Crystal Lake where this is being written. Knowing my love of the game but accepting I couldn’t really play, Dad started a tradition of throwing a spare ball on the fairway about a hundred feet from the green and I’d kick it or throw it with my right foot and then pretending that same foot was a putter, I’d putt the ball in. I’d even get on my knees and survey the green for the right angles and slopes, just like the pros. But as much as I enjoyed my small participation, it was what Dad taught me about what the game meant that I’ll never forget.
Dad called it “The Gentlemen’s Game”. There were definitely times I saw Dad get frustrated after a “duff” or a “slice” or if one went out of bounds. I clearly remembered him taking a penalty if his ball went out, even when I found it (my main job was finding lost balls in the woods). I asked him once, why would he take a penalty stroke when it was just him golfing? I treasure his answer to this day; “Son, you’d only be cheating on yourself and there is no honour in that. Besides, we may be alone, but the Golf Gods are always watching…always!” He couldn’t emphasize enough how sportsmanship should always come first, always. On the course, in the rink, at the alley, or on the field, wherever the game is played and that same code extends to life!
I had actually lost some of my joy in watching TV Golf when Tiger Woods was winning everything. Surprised? I know so many people who loved him. His record proves he is one of the most successful professionals to play golf. Even I can admit his talent. But to me, the game changed in ways I didn’t enjoy. His fist pumping to celebrate himself. It reminded me of the football being spiked in the endzone after a touchdown, but this was golf. Woods is credited for sending television ratings through the roof, but he also was the catalyst behind people screaming “IN THE HOLE” as a putt was taken. I hate that expression! This is golf, not rugby! Some are sad Woods has fallen of the mountain, I call it karma. I do not believed he honoured the game because it was all about him!
So back to yesterday. As Day and Speith came up to the 18th green, all Day needed to do was sink a couple of putts to win his first Major tournament. When Jason Day hit his second last putt, he started to get tears flowing. After he sunk his last putt, he downright cried! He hugged and cried with his caddy, also a lifelong best friend from Australia. He then got a heartfelt hug from Mr. Speith, a big hug and a kiss from his three year old son and a very emotional embrace from his wife. He almost seemed in disbelief. I couldn’t wait to write about it today. By the way, look up Jason Day’s remarkable story of pereseverance and never-give-up attitude because he deserves all he gets.
Listen, I know its just a game to some and not vital to humanity but ask yourself a question; “Do you honour the life you are leading? Do you celebrate your opponent’s win? Do you keep your emotions in check when you are the winner out of respect for the loser? Do you live with the knowledge that The Golf Gods are always watching? Do you see how lessons from sports can guide the way we conduct our lives?”
Congratulations to Jason Day for winning your first major golf tournament and the same to Jordan Speith who was also a big winner yesterday!