Sunday, October 2, 2016

Right Place, Right Time: The 2016 Ryder Cup

Although golf proved to be wildly successful in the Olympics, my suspicions were confirmed while watching the 2016 Ryder Cup Golf Championship: the game in Rio should have featured the sport in a match play format. Match play is downright thrilling to watch. The emotions and energy runs so much higher than it typically does in a golf tournament, including the majors. And, I've got to believe that's true because each golfer is playing for something much larger than him or herself. In the Ryder Cup, golfers are playing for Team USA. And, it wouldn't take you all of but 3 minutes airtime to know that was true.
In between cheers of USA! USA! and the obligatory "in the hole" from someone in the crowd on every Par 3, I heard some entertaining insights from a colleague of mine who hosted our viewing party.. and added my own. Here's a few of them...

Great Sportsmanship Stems from a Team Mentality
Jordan Spieth conceded the match to Henrik Sten on the 16th hole when his ball landed in the water, left of the green. With both shoes off and his pant legs rolled up, he consulted a rules official about his options only to find the ball—that was once floating—now underwater in what became an unplayable lie. Jordan confirmed the likely ruling, knowing that two strokes gave Stenson the match (his ball was already close to the pin). Spieth immediately walked out of the water and up the hill to congratulate his opponent. Even before he shook his hand, he removed his hat, and started clapping for the Swede. They exchanged spirited words, shook hands and hugged it out. I looked at Spieth, standing barefoot on the green and marveled at his great sportsmanship. No golfer does it better.
I have a personal theory about Spieth. The of son collegiate athletes (his mom a basketball player at Moravian College and his father, Shawn a baseball player at Lehigh), Spieth grew up playing team sports (basketball, baseball and football). It's in his DNA and it shaped him as an athlete and a competitor. When I watch him play, Ryder Cup or any other tourney, the roots of his upbringing in team sports shines through. While some people criticize him for the use of the term "we," I don't. I love that when he succeeds he includes those people who help him along the way. However, what's interesting to me is that when he makes a mistake, he speaks in "I" statements. There is no "i" is team is no cliche for the number four player in the world.

My coworker responded to my claim by offering that he believes Spieth demonstrates true sportsmanship because he is Jesuit educated. I'll take that...and I hope every teacher in a Catholic school will too. Thanks Spiethy!

The Br0-Hug
It's always interesting to me to observe how humanity publicly demonstrates affection with one another. Indeed, gestures of affection, love, care, and intimacy differ from culture to culture, from age to age and in particular among and between the gender. 

another iteration of affection between teammates, the fist bump is super safe
In sports, men in this country are often more free to show emotion and extend a hug and a real embrace with another man than in other environments. The Ryder Cup however reveals another dimension to the PDA equation.

At the conclusion of each match between players and teams, every golfer completes the same ritual. Each removes his hat, shake hands, exchange words while looking one another in the eye only to conclude the exchange with something other than the Bro-Hug. The Bro-Hug, for those who don't know it, is an embrace between two men that is tender and tough at the same time. The arm that extends to the back on the other man must remain super straight. It acts like a near baton, beating the very one it is supposed to be loving/appreciating/acknowledging. At the Ryder Cup, the Bro-Hug was co-opted by the ceremonial pat down of the pecs. That's right, it was as if one golfer got a sense of the pectoral muscle of his opponent in this moment of what was once an embrace between Bros. It wasn't unnatural. It wasn't weird looking or awkward. It's that it was new and different. And hey, there's nothing spiritual about this, but it did leave to a spirited conversation...

Knowing Your Place
Perhaps it's more of an art than a science, but I think we should all know (or at least try to know) your place in any social setting, work environment, ceremony or celebration. We should know were we belong and where is a good place to sit, stand or be. Also, we ought to realize the right time to leave, bow out or exit. The Ryder Cup reminded me of this subtle but important truth? nuance? M.O.?
Michael Jordan ALWAYS has a place at the table. 
All of the players ran onto the green as Davis Love III's final Captain's pick, Ryan Moore, clinched the Cup for the U.S. on the 18th hole. Many of the players gathered around Moore, played golf in college and several had played Ryder Cup before, so the sense of "team golf" was by no means "lost" on them. And yet, the US has not captured the Cup in its last three contests and the feeling of golf as a team sport is many years in the past for a number of players. 

Hugging one another and Moore in this exciting moment is theirs to savor. However, in the middle of the celebration, I noticed a number of the players' wives were in the middle there too. Sorry ladies, but I don't think this is your celebration to have, in that moment. Yes, you support your husbands and boyfriends. Yes, there is a time and a place for you to be recognized for sacrifices you make to support their careers. Yes, you are big fans too, but I can't think of another sport that includes anyone but the players and coaches and elite team personnel in on that moment of the clinch....of celebration....of congratulations among teammates. It's their's to enjoy.

Right Place, Right Time.
There's a phrase that our former dean said to students quite often: wrong place, wrong time. What could be more true than knowing where you should be and when (see point above). And yet, its opposite message is also true: right place, right time. I suppose that Ryan Moore would agree. 

As much as I wish a crowd favorite like Matt Kuchar had won the match and clinched the Cup, it was not his story to tell. That lucky guy is Ryan Moore. Not only was he Love's final pick, he was on the green when golf history was made. As my mother says "you make your luck." Moore's hard work, grit and determination got him onto the team and proved to be an asset for the 2016 squad. Savor the moment Ryno and keep showing up.

The last few days at Hazeltine were bittersweet. I know that golf well-deserved hibernation mode and rest period until the first Major of the new year...and it should. But so much about the 2016 Ryder Cup exceeded my expectations: the players, the venue, the fans, the weather and the overall's why we love sports. Even though a significant number of other great contests took place today, this Championship stands out as one to just savor. If only Vin Scully could have announced it...and Arnie could have hit the ceremonial first ball off the tee. I guess we know a little bit more about what heaven will be like now....

Photo Credits

Fist Bump

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