Being here in the Mecca of golf, surrounded by great courses and great weather, golf is not foreign to us. Our own Twin Valley Country Club is reported to be designed by the legendary Donald Ross, who designed many well-known golf courses like those in Pinehurst.
Golf is a great game. It is the only sport in which the competitor is required to know the rules and personally enforce any infraction. Unlike baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis or football, where an infraction must be caught in order to be enforced, golf requires the individual to call the penalty.
In the 1925 U.S. Open at Worchester Country Club, Bobby Jones hit his drive off the fairway into the rough. As he was preparing to hit his next shot, he placed his club behind the ball and the ball moved slightly, and the rule clearly calls for a penalty, whether the player is being witnessed or not. In this case, no one else saw it move. It was a matter of honor with Bob Jones, and he was flabbergasted when the act drew such a wave of admiration. "Well," he said, "you might as well have praised a man for not robbing a bank.” The story has become the single best example of the integrity required to play the game of golf. The United States Golf Association Sportsmanship Award is named The Bob Jones Award, in his honor.
Golf requires a player to begin the hole and “play it as it lies.” That is golf lingo for taking consequences for one’s actions. Golf also requires one to finish one hole before starting another. Also good advice in life— finish one thing before starting another. When playing with others, one must wait her/his turn. When it comes someone’s turn too play a shot, it is called their honor. When a player makes a bad shot or decision, they have a chance to improve and correct the mistake on the next shot, hole or round; a good reminder for imperfect humans, as well.
In golf, you can’t play defense against your competitors. Respect for each other is expected. Watch any college basketball game and you will see and hear fans trying to distract the other team’s players. Not so in golf. Cheer for your favorite but not in any manner to distract the opponent. Respect for the course, the environment is expected. Leave it like you found it or better than you found it is part of the honor of the game. Remember someone is coming after you.
The rules may be bent in a friendly game of golf. Some grace usually is seen when second chances are given, called a mulligan, or putts conceded to speed up the game and sooth a bruised ego. But the intent of the game is one of personal integrity and skill. I wanted my children to learn to play because of the self-discipline required to master the game.
In reality, one never masters the game of golf. The real champions learn to master their egos, tempers, ambitions and a host of other human frailties. It has been said that golf is 90 percent mental. Maybe in reference to Yogi Berra’s reported statement, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.” Bobby Jones said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a 5-and-a-half-inch course: the space between your ears.”
A wise father told his son, “You will never be able to control your ball until you can control yourself “
Yes, this weekend, as many others, professional golfers will be inside the ropes and on the course. They will “tee it up” with the best in their chosen profession. Millions will watch from the galleries, the stands and on Television. One of the players will hoist a trophy as the champion. But in reality, each player has taken on the ultimate challenge in life to master ego, fears, self-doubt and to commit to play the game of golf with passion, dedication, and integrity. In such a commitment there are no losers. And besides, they get to play for a living; a good one at that.
Bobby Jones never became a professional, believing that it would spoil the love of the game, and the joy and challenge of competing against the course and one’s self. I’ll not pass judgment on that. However, I will say that some of the professional golfers seem to enjoy winning more than playing the game. Having their name on a trophy is more important than having their name on a scorecard. That is a shame.
Maybe that is another lesson you and I might learn about the game of golf and the journey of life. Winners enjoy the journey and know how one chooses to play the game of life determines real success. Golf can be a difficult challenge. So is life. It’s your honor. Play well!