Those who follow my blog religiously (both of you!?!) likely have figured out by now that I have a SMALL obsession with the game of golf (http://tinyurl.com/p5zds78 , http://tinyurl.com/owkztcy, http://tinyurl.com/nm2s33n, http://tinyurl.com/nb7oure, http://tinyurl.com/obyekyy). What probably is considerably less obvious, however, is that my obsession stems not from the game itself, but from the character it reveals in the people who play (and have played) it at the highest level throughout its rich history and the striking parallels between it and the Game of Life.
A Case In Point:
In 1998, a 17 year-old amateur golfer named Justin Rose burst onto the international golf scene by holing a wedge shot for birdie from 50 yards on the final hole of the British Open at Royal Birkdale (www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPTiNgwd_HM), a shot that catapulted him into a tie for 4th place. It was a feel good moment for the Brits, who had long awaited an heir to the throne of the likes of Vardon, Jacklin and Faldo. Perhaps caught up in the hysteria created by his improbable success on such a grand stage at such an early age, Rose decided to turn pro the following day. Many questioned the wisdom and judgment of Rose’s parents and advisors in making that decision, knowing how difficult a transition it is from amateur to professional golf, for even the most mature and seasoned of players, let alone someone who was still in high school; and Rose’s legendary lack of success the following year certainly suggested the naysayers were right. In all, Rose missed his first 21 cuts as a professional, meaning that, in the first 21 tournaments he entered, Rose failed to qualify for the final two days of competition based on his play over the first two days – a devastating blow to both to the psyche and the wallet of any professional golfer.
In recent interviews, Rose has candidly admitted that his historically inauspicious start left a considerable amount of scar tissue on his soul, as did the death of his father, Ken, who had been so instrumental in Rose’s development as a person and a player, less than 4 years later (i.e., in 2002). It certainly would have been easy in the midst of his almost unimaginably poor professional start and the gravity of his personal grief, for Rose to throw in the towel and fade away, easy for him to buy into what many of the pundits were saying about him at the time, namely that his “moment at Birkdale” was nothing more than that – just a moment, a flash in the pan – not a harbinger of great things to come, as the British press and many in the golf world predicted it would be that magical day in 1998. Indeed, many men of lesser character likely would have taken that route and, truth be told, few would have blamed Rose if he did. But Rose took a different approach. Not unlike sport greats before him who had endured similar hardships and streaks, Rose re-doubled his efforts and before long began to realize the promise he and those closest to him had seen all along.
A few weeks ago, Justin Rose won the U.S. Open at Merion, arguably the most difficult professional golf tournament to win in the world. It was Rose’s first Major Championship – indeed, the highest he had finished in the 37 Major Championships in which he had competed since his 4th place finish at Royal Birkdale as a 17 year-old – 15 years earlier. It also was the first time in 43 years that an Englishman had won the U.S. Open. How did Rose do it? How did he get from Point A to Point B? Well, believe it or not, there was no magic in play, no secret recipe that is uniquely Rose’s. His journey “back” began, as all such journeys must, regardless of their genesis, with an unwavering belief in himself and his ability to do it. That belief, in turn, was reinforced by others (e.g., family, friends, coaches, etc.) who also believed and who simply refused, regardless of the frequency or magnitude of the challenges Rose encountered along the way, to be dissuaded in their conviction. And, inevitably, there was perseverance, patience and hard work – lots of it – hours spent honing the physical skills and mental toughness required to confront, endure and, ultimately, overcome whatever obstacles stood in the way of Rose achieving that which, at least professionally, he most desired.
Now for the Life part:
The longer I live, the clearer it becomes that, not unlike Justin Rose, albeit in far less public settings, most of us will know the bitterness, self-doubt and frustration that accompanies often extended or repeated “droughts” in our lives. We will be faced with the same questions and choices: Do we throw in the towel? Do we simply adopt the mind-set of the naysayers in our lives and fade into the background? Or do we cling to what we know in our hearts to be true, what those who know us best and love us mightily also believe to be true about us? When those moments come, as they inevitably will with varying degrees of intensity, I hope all of us (talking to myself as much as anyone here) can find a way to reach just a little deeper and “remember, in the Winter, far beneath the bitter snow, lies a seed that with the sun’s/Son’s love in the Spring becomes a Rose.”