Thursday, October 28, 2010

The gentleman's game

For more than a century, golf has been referred to rightly as the gentleman's game. It is precise, intellectual, circumspect, humane and soothing, much like classical music. It's one major reason why it's the only sport that'll I'll watch regularly on TV.

That isn't to say it isn't competitive. Just watch Ryder Cup play or the last round of an important tournament. You'll see a vast range of emotions, anxiety, thrill, intensity, conquest, capitulation.

But you will very rarely see outright meanness that you witness in other sports: the yelling at officials in tennis, the in-your-face dancing in football, the endless arguing with umpires and pitching-mound attacks in baseball, the egregious attacks in basketball, the ubiquitous brawling in hockey, etc.

Yes, these others sports are more physical and more "attack" oriented, no doubt raising the testosterone level by degrees. But these other sports seem to attract the "attack" personalities. Which is the chicken and which the egg? These other sports do have a great many men who seem to play for the sake of playing (like golfers) and play with great sportsmanship, not to show off over a downed opponent. But a large percentage of them act badly and don't seem to understand the true meaning of work: to enjoy what you do and to do it the best that you can.

A recent example of a gentleman in the gentleman's game came on Sunday on the PGA Tour at the Las Vegas Open. The 72-hole tournament ended in a 3-way tie. The three men were on the fourth hole of a playoff, when the first golfer on the fourth hole, Jonathan Byrd, struck his ball off the tee. After it landed on the green it rolled into the hole for a hole-in-one, effectively winning the tournament for him before the other two golfers even got a chance to hit their balls off the tee.

Jonathan didn't jump up and down and get in the face of his two opponents. His face brightened and a broad smile shown, and then he moved aside to let his two opponents get their chance to make an unlikely hole-in-one themselves. Here's what Jonathan said after he won the tournament when he was asked why he reacted the way that he did:

"I tried to be respectful of the two other guys (Martin Laird and Cameron Percy). I didn't want to excessively celebrate. I was trying to contain myself, be composed and let them hit. I knew I'd have plenty of time to celebrate and react after that."

That is why I watch golf. A man honors himself and others. He is circumspect spontaneously in the moment, despite feeling jubilation. He wants his competitors to give their best without distractions from him or the crowd reacting to his jubilation.

Like good art, Jonathan Byrd and his golf brethren remind me of the best in me, day in and day out.

He is a gentleman.

No comments: