I will never forget when I heard the current University of Oregon men's golf coach Casey Martin share this insight. I had not heard of a sport being described as "selfish," and ranking one of them as the "most selfish" isn't a distinction I wanted to associate with something I love. But, I knew what he meant and to some extent, he's right. Other than national allegiances the team is you. It lives with you; it dies with you. The final round at the 2013 Masters, however, revealed something much different.
And yet, it wasn't a given that Scott was the winner. Cabrera, in the final group, watched Scott from the fairway knowing he had to hit a brilliant shot on the last hole. He did. The 43-year old Argentinian's ball pulled up 3 feet from the cup for an easy birdie that sent them into the sudden-death playoff. If this is reminiscent of last year, that's because it should be. Bubba Watson and Louis Ossthuizen faced the same fate on Easter Sunday 2012.
And from the moment, it wasn't hard to see that this sudden-death playoff was giving life to something more: the face of sportsmanship. In some sports, your opponent is so clearly "the enemy." A rival is to be slain, the competition is to be conquered. But every once in a while, athletes recognize that it isn't the other person who you must beat--but the game.
I have been a witness to this spirit in but a few cross country races. The runners as competitors have so much respect for one another that they are able to see the clock is who they must defeat. Other runners propel one another to get to the finish harder, stronger, faster.
I recognized this beautiful truth on the very first hole of the playoff, Scott and Cabrera's shots landed literally side-by-side, evidence of their equal talent and skill. And they finished that hole accordingly--an even par. As they moved to the 10th hole for the second shot of the playoff the skies grew darker. But the energy between these two men who have been teammates before (President's cup) shined brightly. After their second shot on the hole, I noticed they flashed a thumbs-up to each other. That small gesture spoke volumes; it was a mutual recognition of golf well played, of let's beat this game, keep at it! Cabrera hit a 15-fit birdie putt that grazed the right side of the cup. So close, but close doesn't cut it in golf.
When Scott nailed his 12-foot putt for birdie and the victory, Cabrera was there to hug him. It was an embrace that only a man whose nickname is "El Pato" could give (It Spanish for "The Duck" because he waddles like one). Even after Scott made victory rounds and hugged his caddie, Stevie Williams several more times, he walked with Cabrera, linked arm and arm for much of the exit. David Steele of SportingNews captured the significance of this and the entirety of Masters' Sunday perfectly. He wrote "If ever a sports championship of this magnitude and history could actually come away with two winners and no losers, this one did. Together, Scott, the winner and Cabrera the almost-winner, elevated the game."
And that's what Masters Sunday offers--every year it's something different. Every year, the champion elevates the game. Yes, I say this while riding an emotional high. But I also write this with a sense of incredibility about the wonder of it all. And I also say with total sincerity, today the most selfish endeavor in the world was something much different. It was one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship--subtle and beautiful--in golf's history. And on this day, golfers triumphed over golf.
Abrazo muy fuerte
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