I’ve probably seen all or portions of “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (2005) at least a dozen times – 13 if you count the 11 minutes I spent watching the final scene this past Sunday afternoon. And yet, no matter how often I see it, without exception, tears always begin seeping from my eyes at precisely the same moment. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the movie is based on 19 year-old American amateur, Francis Ouimet’s historic play-off victory over Harry Vardon (“The Stylist”) in the 1913 U.S. Open played at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. The victory was most improbable, particularly given Vardon’s iconic status as one of golf’s all-time greats and Ouimet’s pedigree as a poor coal miner’s son, who started caddying at The Country Club at age 9 as a means of earning a few extra dollars to help his immigrant parents make ends meet. And yet, the movie is much more than a story about a 100 year-old golf tournament. Rather, it is a complex, multi-layered tale about dreams abandoned and reclaimed, courage and perseverance, humility and humiliation, confronting and overcoming inner demons and the sustaining power of a mother’s quiet, but no less unconditional love and support. It also is the story of a fragile and insecure son’s longing for the affection and approval of his emotionally distant and hyper-critical father.
Ultimately, however, the Greatest Game is the story of a young man’s quest to prove (to himself and his dad) that which, on some level, he always believed to be true about himself, but was never quite sure, namely that he had a gift and, as it would turn out, an unquenchable desire to pursue it for all the world to see. In the movie, those themes (and the full spectrum of emotions surrounding them) converge on the final green as Ouimet stands over a 4-foot putt to win the Open. But it is the moments that follow the making of that putt that always strike a chord somewhere deep within me. In the midst of the celebration of his victory, with Ouimet lifted high on the shoulders of his new army of adoring fans, a weather-beaten hand stretches out from the crowd to offer a dollar of congratulations – the 1913 equivalent of a “high five” – and a thumbs up. It belongs to Ouimet’s father, who unbeknownst to his wife and son had taken the day off from his work in the mines to see his son’s remarkable achievement (and his earlier stated assurances: “I can do this dad – I’m good at it!” come to fruition). That’s the moment – the moment when Ouimet achieves the only “victory” he ever really wanted: capturing his father’s heart and admiration. In the end, I believe it is the crowning life achievement that every child (young and old) longs for either with their dad, their mom or both – at least I know I did.
Sunday, I realized my tears flow from envy and the realization that I spent a considerable portion of my life searching and longing for that metaphorical outstretched hand – from my dad, my mom, a lover, a friend, anyone really who not only “saw” what I’ve always believed to be true about “me” (that I too had gifts), but who was willing, without my having to so actively solicit their attention, to fully embrace and enthusiastically encourage me to share those gifts with others – someone I could trust to show me to myself (http://tinyurl.com/a9tdsco).