Nice Guys DO Finish First!

mastersYou may not be a golf nut — nor watch it on TV — but you can’t escape knowing that there was a Major Event in the golf world this weekend: The Masters Golf Tournament. And if that weren’t enough all by itself, we saw proof that nice guys DO finish first.

While I don’t play golf, I did grow up in that world. My folks belonged to a country club (sounds grander than it was), and my friends and I learned to play the game but none of us cared much about it. It was just where we went during some summers. It was just what we did.

But along the way, I realized that I liked watching golf because I liked seeing individuals do well, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, the years of Arnie, Jack, and Gary as TV began to show more and more tournaments. These men popularized the sport and made it accessible to anyone; its popularity grew even more with the likes of Phil and Tiger, about 20 years ago.

Now Jordan Spieth is the new kid on the block, and from everything I’ve seen over the past year, he’s the real deal. I saw him play last year in the Masters — the tournament he just won — and he came in second. He was 20 years old, and he was playing at the Masters — one of the best-known golf events in the world — and he CAME. IN. SECOND.

This year he won. Big. HUGE. He started off well, played well, and ended spectacularly well.  He obliterated several long-standing records in the process, and in the end earned his green jacket on his second attempt. At the ripe old age of 21.

And this year — so far — he has won two tournaments and come in second twice. In four starts. 1-2-2-1.

Seriously?

But to me, that’s not the whole story. When I watch him play, I see a really nice kid. Wholesome. Friendly. Professional. I see a boy — OK, a young man — who apparently grew up well, learning lessons that benefit us all. I see a kid who “gets it.” I see Arnie, Jack, and Gary — and countless others of their generation — smiling and nodding at him. “Thatta boy,” they’re thinking! And I hope all the young fans, both on and off the course, see how it’s done.

Golf is a really naked sport, you know? There’s the player, a small white ball, and a bunch of long sticks. The goal? To get that ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible, playing on courses that are approximately 7,000 yards long, and playing for four straight days in tournaments. Lots of time to do it right . . . or flounder badly for all to see.

The obstacles are legion: sand traps, some looking as big as Miami Beach; trees (everywhere, there are trees!); swirling winds; and water, which inevitably makes some golfers hit bad shots just to avoid it.

So, lessons learned from golf in general and from this amazing kid, Jordan Spieth:

1.  Play the ball as it lies. No cheating. No moving it to a better, easier location. It is what it is. Deal with it.

2.  Remember your good manners. They help everyone stay calm, and they reinforce that bad behavior gets us nothing but trouble. The most emotional of the players usually end up far down the leader board, as they allow their frustration to overcome their ability to play well.

3.  Play your own game. You cannot control what others do, but you can — to a large extent — control what you do. The outcomes may not always be exactly what you want, but you still have control. You can make changes. You can succeed on your own terms. Looking at the leader board to see where others are can help motivate you, but in the end, it’s your game you have to play.

I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out in the coming years. One nice thing about watching golf is it’s easy to do on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Pleasant to watch. There’s drama, but it’s low-key stuff. And there is now Jordan Speith. It will be fun seeing how he matures in the coming years.