Sunday, April 9, 2017

Another Chapter in the History of the Masters: The Beauty of Sporstmanship

Yet another chapter has been written in golf's great history book. Indeed the Masters has its fair share of chapter and verse, and the one about the 2017 tourney is one worth reading. Why? Today's show down for the green jacket taught me about the true nature of sportsmanship and what it requires of athletes and of fans.
Just yesterday, I asked a friend who he was rooting for to win the tourney. He said, "honestly no one, it's so compelling I root for just great competition, which it ALWAYS is!!" Though I appreciate his perspective and I understood what he meant, I cannot remain impartial when it comes to golf. I am loyal to certain players, interested in others, some aggravate me and a few elicit total disgust.

I have never been a fan of Sergio Garcia. To label the Spaniard as a "victim" is a little strong, but the whining and complaining, the multiple references to himself in the third person and as many fans cannot forget, spitting into the cup after missing a putt for par in 2007 (Doral)—all of it makes it tough to equate sportsman with his name. As reported in the WSJ
In his 73 failed attempts to win a major championship, Sergio Garcia found all manner of scapegoats. It was Augusta National, which he once said didn’t suit him. It was some intangible quality he lacked, he said another time. Or it was a higher power, as he alluded to in 2007 when he said, “I’m playing against a lot of guys out there..."
If you pay attention to his body language, his words are not surprising. I am confident, were he to play for Geno Auriemma, the women's basketball coach at UConn, he would be benched. 
Garcia's playing partner, however Justin Rose is the consummate professional. I have heard many golf pros say that he has the purest swing in all of golf. He has come in second at the Masters before. When asked what he could have done differently to beat Jordan Spieth in 2015, Rose quipped "nothing. He played truly incredible golf today."

In golf, the rules, tradition and etiquette are of supreme importance. Fans at the Masters understand; they are among the best in all of sport. They are generous with their praise and honest too. Yes, there are times of uncomfortable silence e.g. when a player misses a routine putt. Clapping for a player is always deserved. Sportsmanship is paramount; no one audibly roots against anyone. I can't say that is the case in all golf tournaments—the Waste Management Open—but I do believe the spirit of the Masters has an affect on those of us watching in our living rooms nationwide. Indeed, as much as I wanted to cheer when Garcia took an unplayable lie or missed his 4 foot putt for birdie, I was encouraged not to. Stay classy; be a good sportsman.

So, I did what I could do—I rooted for Rose loud and proud. I took delight in his ten stroke lead and wanted him to just hold on and play par golf on through 18. However, knowing that several holes on the back nine are not hard for the pros to make birdie, I realized the Masters and Garcia would demand more of him. 

As the shadows began to lengthen, Garcia once again got hot. "El Nino," who might have been his own worst enemy in the past, regrouped and played great golf on holes number 14 and 15, but so did Rose. In was in that flurry that I saw what everyone else watching CBS sports saw: Garcia extended his hand to his competitor in an understated high five. Rose, who made a tough putt for birdie responded and the two shared a moment of appreciation for what was unfolding. They smiled, feeling good about their game, and in turn, they both honored the game with their sportsmanship. If you had told me that Rose was a great sportsman, I would not have been surprised. But, on Masters Sunday Garcia was too.

Moments like these are why we continue to watch live sporting events. In the context of when it happened and what was at stake, I was nearly overtaken by the emotion of it all. I wanted all of my students in Sports and Spirituality to witness what what I just saw...and saw again on another hole thereafter— when Rose gave Garcia a thumbs up....and as the two completed the 18th hole to enter in a play-off—as they hugged one another. This final round was the manifestation of what we have read and studied.

In the article "What Role Does Ethics Play in Sports" Kirk Hanson writes
To understand the role ethics plays in sport and competition, it is important to make a distinction between gamesmanship and sportsmanship. 
Gamesmanship is built on the principle that winning is everything. Athletes and coaches are encouraged to bend the rules wherever possible in order to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent, and to pay less attention to the safety and welfare of the competition. Some of the key tenants of gamesmanship are:
  • Winning is everything
  • It's only cheating if you get caught
  • It is the referee's job to catch wrongdoing, and the athletes and coaches have no inherent responsibility to follow the rules
  • The ends always justify the means
Some examples of gamesmanship are:
  • Faking a foul or injury
  • Attempting to get a head start in a race
  • Tampering with equipment, such as corking a baseball bat in order to hit the ball farther
  • Covert personal fouls, such as grabbing a player underwater during a water polo match
  • Inflicting pain on an opponent with the intention of knocking him or her out of the game, like the Saint's bounty scandal
  • The use of performance-enhancing drugs
  • Taunting or intimidating an opponent
  • A coach lying about an athlete's grades in order to keep him or her eligible to play
All of these examples place greater emphasis on the outcome of the game than on the manner in which it is played. 
A more ethical approach to athletics is sportsmanship. Under a sportsmanship model, healthy competition is seen as a means of cultivating personal honor, virtue, and character. It contributes to a community of respect and trust between competitors and in society. The goal in sportsmanship is not simply to win, but to pursue victory with honor by giving one's best effort.
Sunday at the Masters 2017 was an incredible display of sportsmanship by the athletes and in the fans, including me! I never knew I could feel the way I did today. I was very disappointed that Justin Rose lost and Sergio Garcia won, but that emotion was trumped by something greater. Rose said it best when he insisted "it's hard not to feel good for Sergio after his Major win."

He's right. Their performance was a victory for sportsmanship, for golf and for the Masters. These two players—and others like Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth (see his post match interview) found victory with honor. That same friend wrapped it up well when he told me, "honestly, I don't think words can do it justice." But they must, for this story and this very chapter  has to be written. 

Thank you for giving us your best effort. Augusta National is a beautiful course, but today it radiated its beauty in the quality of the game. 

Photo Credits

Hug and other photo

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