Setting a good example on the fairways of life

October 17, 1999|By SUSAN REIMER

DURING LAST month's Ryder Cup golf competition in Brookline, Mass., more bad manners were on display than you'd find at an NHL game or at my dinner table.

A yahoo factor previously absent from golf revealed itself during this esteemed tournament when members of the gallery taunted our European opponents with insults and deliberate attempts were made to break their concentration. The wife of the European captain was spat upon, if you can believe it.

In addition, American players displayed inappropriate exuberance. Inappropriate for golf, that is.

The fist-pumping, dancing, jumping and hugging were shocking departures from the modest wave of acknowledgment that we expect from golfers, and was more like something we'd see in an NFL end zone. The British press called it "repugnant triumphalism."

The focal point of outrage was the behavior of the Americans after U.S. team member Justin Leonard sank a 45-foot putt for birdie on the 17th hole to seal the American victory on the final round of competition.

To use a sports analogy, there was still time on the clock and Leonard's opponent had possession when the fans and the players stormed the field and tore down the goal posts.

The old guard of golf has sought, in part, to blame these outrages on the changing demographic of their sport. Younger players, like Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, draw younger fans and they bring with them their immature behavior. (Apparently the Ryder Cup has a history of this kind of bathroom nationalism, but when you work so hard to bring an event into prime time, as golf has done with the Ryder Cup, you pay the price of the whole world witnessing your bad behavior.)

Now, all I know about golf is that it is the reason nothing gets done around my house on Saturdays, but unlike watching televised college football, it requires special shoes.

But my ears perked up during the Ryder Cup imbroglio because those criticizing the American players and the gallery were saying that the insult of their bad behavior was compounded by the fact that golf has not only been the last bastion of honor and sportsmanship, but also a great civilizing influence on young men.

I am unceasing in my search for ways to civilize my young man, and when my husband agreed that the arcane etiquette of golf had a great deal to teach about how to behave on the great fairway of life, I was more than willing to listen. So, for the purposes of this column, I sat with my husband and watched a video produced by the United States Golf Association titled, "The Spirit of the Game."

In it, golfers your child would not recognize, such as Arnold Palmer, as well as athletes he would, such as John Elway and Jerry Rice, talk about respect for the game, respect for the course and respect for your opponent.

Much as Robert Fulghum did in his book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," the rules of golf can easily be seen to apply to life, too.

Read on, and see if you agree. Always be on time and prepared to play. Be ready when it is your turn. Think ahead, anticipate, move along.

Choose the teeing ground that best matches your ability.

Respect the other players on the course. Be mindful of the safety of those in front of you. Play briskly out of courtesy for those coming behind you.

A golf course is a fragile bit of natural beauty, and you must leave it as you found it: Replace divots, repair ball marks, rake out footprints in sand traps.

There is more to the game of golf than hitting the ball as far as you can.

And, most succinctly: You must play the ball as it lies.

There is more to the etiquette of golf for a parent to love. T-shirts and tennis shoes are frowned upon. Golfers do not spit, grab their crotches or wear do-rags. Tantrums are abhorrent. Opponents do not attempt to injure or maim each other with the implements of their sport.

In addition, golfers must always put things back where they belong: flags, clubs, divots. They are taught: don't drag your feet when you walk; take turns; be still and quiet while others are teeing off.

It sounds to me as though a mother invented this sport for her sons.

But perhaps the most important element of golf -- more than its emphasis on courtesy -- is its fundamental demand for personal integrity.

There are no judges or officials on the golf course watching your every move. Only the player knows if he has obeyed the rules. Each golfer records his own score, so only he knows if he has been honest.

There are no arbiters or referees on hand for disputes. Thus, this encompassing admonition of golf: "When in doubt, do what is fair."

All of these rules are worth instilling in a young person, whether he or she plays golf or video games, soccer or the guitar.

And there is one last rule of golf that will reveal itself when all the rest are mastered by your young pupil:

The winner always tees off first.

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