On Humility

One of the most difficult character traits to find in professional sports in general and specifically in a professional athlete is humility.  Maybe it’s because from an early age athletes are bred to believe that humility simply cannot co-exist with the unwavering self-confidence that is required to compete at the highest levels in sport.  However, humility is disproportionately “findable” in professional golf and in the professional golfer.  Having walked thousands of miles of fairways watching some of the best golfers in the country compete over the years, I have a few theories that may help to explain this phenomenon.  First and foremost, the game of golf itself is humbling.  Simply put, no matter how you good you are at it, you either bring humility to the game of golf or it will gladly “supply” it – in spades.  See, e.g., Adam Scott’s finish at the recently concluded 2012 British Open.  Second, professional golf is the only sport where every time you take the field of play you are competing against the absolute best in the game.  By way of comparison, imagine the NL and AL champions playing each other 162 times a season, as opposed to simply in a 7 game World Series or the Packers having to face the Patriots 16 times a season, rather than in a single game Super Bowl.  As a result, golfers appreciate how difficult it is to finish in the top 10 in any given week, let alone to come out on top even once a year, which, almost by definition, demands a certain amount of humility.  Finally, while golf is the most “individual” of all sports (i.e., there is no one to lean on when things go south, nowhere to turn), golfers realize that, at the end of the day success doesn’t come without a significant amount of support from lots of people – family, friends, sponsors and consulting experts. For all these reasons and more, it is not uncommon to see humility manifest itself at the end of what often is an emotionally exhausting 4 day event.  Sometimes a picture is all that’s needed to appreciate it, other times it is evident from the tears that these highly skilled professionals are unabashedly willing to share with those who are fortunate enough to spectate:  

Ben Creshaw Wins the 1995 Masters:
 
 
Post round press conference after Bubba Watson’s inaugural win at the 2010 Travelers
 
http://tinyurl.com/cq7ceec (6:00 to 10:00 minute marks)
 
Bubba Watson Inteview After Winning the 2012 Masters
 
 
I’ve always thought that golf is alot like life in many respects, these two important ones among them (i.e., both demand or will “supply” humility on the part of those who “play” them and neither is truly an “individual sport” in that both require the support of others in order for the “player” to be successful).  But, every now and then, often when it is least expected, everything comes together and, in the midst of humility, greatness is achieved and dreams are realized.

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