Mastering Sportsmanship

The 2019 Masters Golf Tournament starts this week.  It is here, at this “tradition like no other” golf tournament, where courtesy and respect permeate the atmosphere.  Players, patrons, and even the sports announcers are expected to observe traditional forms of etiquette and display respectful behavior.  Rowdiness, in any form, is a big no-no and risks permanent banishment from the most hallowed grounds in golf.

Golf has, in times past, been considered a gentlemen’s game, if I may use that term in its most generic sense. Whether you call golf a game played by gentlemen, ladies, or youth,  I believe such a description has less to do with age and gender than it does with behavior. 

Golf, believe it or not, has much to teach us about sportsmanship.  

I remember watching the final round of the 2009 Masters Tournament. That Sunday, 48-year-old Kenny Perry took a two-stroke lead to the 17th tee box, only to blow the lead and lose in a playoff to Angel Cabrera.  No doubt devastated by the unfortunate turn of events, it was Kenny Perry who demonstrated class and sportsmanship as he was the first to give Cabrera a handshake and offer his congratulations.  Later, USA Today sports columnist, Mike Lopresti, recognized Perry’s actions in a column he titled, “Perry’s poise in defeat is lesson for other athletes.  Lopresti went on to say, “Grace, thy name is Kenny Perry… 

It may not be the Masters, but wherever they play, golfers are still expected to conduct themselves with a certain degree of decorum. This game of dimpled balls is the only sport where a player can call a penalty on himself.  One of the first things an amateur player learns besides the rules of golf is the etiquette of the game. 

  • You do not talk or move when another player is about to swing.
  • You do not walk across the line of another player’s putt.
  • You follow the dress code of the course you are playing.
  • You count all your strokes.
  • You do not give advice unless asked.
  • You replace your divots.
  • You keep your temper under control.

Unfortunately, I have broken all of these rules at one time or another.  Oh, we all shout when we sink that long putt.  Sometimes, we may even fall to our knees when we chunk a simple chip shot.  However, unless you play with the same group of guys all of the time, sooner or later you are paired up with someone whose emotional age is still that of a 3-year-old.  Irons get thrown, expletives erupt, and everyone or everything is blamed but the golfer himself.  Tantrums on the fairway are not a pretty sight.

Profanity has never been part of my vocabulary.  Once again, I am not perfect regarding the words that come from my lips, but as a rule, I refrain. Such exclamations as “dadgummit,” “dog-gone-it,” or “horsefeathers” have been known to be uttered following a particularly poor shot.  Profanity to me has always been an indication that one’s vocabulary is limited.  At least, I’ve invented a few new words — see “horsefeathers” above.  

I particularly recall a co-worker named Ken with whom I played several rounds in the late 1990s.  In his mid-fifties, Ken prided himself on being a good golfer, although his handicap was north of 20 (meaning he usually shot in the ‘90s).  He worked out with weights and had, even at his age, a well-toned muscular frame. Problem was, he always tried to kill the ball, swinging hard on virtually every shot.  He wore the best golf clothes, bought the most expensive clubs and looked quite spiffy in his designer sunglasses.  But when he missed a shot — which was a rather frequent occurrence — the profanities flew.  I usually beat Ken by 5-10 strokes.

There was a round at The Oaks course in Covington that proved to be quite a challenge for both of us.  I was having a particularly bad day.  I didn’t realize it, but Ken was watching me closely.  He heard a few grunts, several groans, and the occasional “horsefeathers,” but that was about all.   I have long forgotten who won that round, but will always remember the conversation we had on the 17th tee.  Ken stopped and gave me a compliment I have never forgotten.  He said he had watched me struggle all day, and never once heard a profane word.  He wanted to let me know how he admired the fact that I maintained my composure regardless of whether I hit a great shot or a poor one.  I was shocked that he had even noticed.

Now before anyone thinks I am a perfect Gentlemen, let me confess that I have failed to live up to this standard on more than one occasion.  However, I can say that the use of profanity is not a habit.  Nevertheless, I am always amazed at what people observe and remember.  

Now, ten years removed from the 2009 Masters, I still remember and am impressed with Kenny Perry’s gentlemanly behavior after his heartbreaking loss. When his competition, Angel Cabrera sank a par putt on 18 to force a playoff, it was Perry who high-fived Cabrera.  When Cabrera hit his ball into the trees on the first playoff hole and scrambled to save par, it was Perry who applauded his feat. “Absolutely I clapped for him,” Perry said. “I don’t root against anyone. The guy was in the trees and fought his way out. Good for him.”

That, my friends, is good sportsmanship…and I bet Kenny didn’t even say “horsefeathers” when he lost.

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