Unlike regular golf tournaments, the Ryder Cup (PGA) and the Solheim Cup (LPGA) are different from regular tournaments in that they put two teams of golfers against each other, Europe and the United States. Competitions range from single one-on-one contests, and group play where shots are not necessarily counted like a regular tournament, but the contests are decided by how many holes each side wins versus the other. The score is kept not for individuals, but between the two teams as a whole.
Watching these two cups is a little different from the standard tournaments played throughout the year. Sometimes a side will concede a hole. For example, team ‘A’ may have a 40’ putt for a par, but team ‘B’ had a great shot and has a 2” tap-in for a birdie. It’s quite common to see the golfers from team ‘A’ to concede the hole and the two groups will proceed to start the next without having finished the hole. Why bother to play it out like a regular tournament when the hole has been decided.
Over the past weekend, the ladies competed in the Solheim Cup in St. Leon-Rot, Germany. A scenario somewhat similar to this one played out between the two teams. Alison Lee, from the United States, missed a putt and the ball was about 18” from the hole, and thought the hole was conceded. However, Suzann Petterson began to walk off, but then argued that they in fact, did not concede the hole. This was after Alison had picked up the ball, resulting in disqualifying the hole. A tie score between the teams was now a one hole lead by Europe leading to the 18th, and final hole between these two groups.
Anger and frustration was quickly followed by tears and disappointment from the two American golfers. Julie Inkster, the U. S. captain was furious with how things played out, and the day ended with the United States behind leading to a final day of singles competitions. Fast forward a couple of days, and the team from the United States mounted a furious comeback on the final day to win the cup. A day after the end of the tournament, Suzann Petterson issued an apology for her actions and comments. She wasn’t wrong or cheated, but could have showed a bit more sportsmanship. The United States won the cup in the end, but history will always focus on the actions on the 17th.
Contrast this to the Ryder Cup in 1969. The United States came into the tournament having won the previous cup in 1967. While playing singles matches on that Sunday, Jack Nicholas was matched against Tony Jacklin. These were the two final golfers on the course, and the United States was winning by one hole. On the 18th, Nicholas made a birdie putt, but before Jacklin could take his shot, he conceded the hole, resulting in the cup score being a tie. With the United States being the holder of the cup from 1967, if the score ended in a tie, they would retain the cup until the next cup in 1971.
Many members of the United States team were annoyed and frustrated with Nicholas’ actions. They wanted to win at all costs. “All the boys thought it was ridiculous to give him that putt,” said Sam Snead. “We went over there to win, not to be good ol’ boys.” Snead, himself a legendary golfer in his own right, was obviously annoyed and frustrated, as well as many others on the team. Many on the team wanted to not retain the cup with a tie, but win outright. The setup for the 18th, and way it was playing out, would have surely guaranteed the U. S. the win.
Time has a way of blurring things. Who won or lost any given year are lost to memory. These facts tend to fade away. I could not name off the last five Superbowl winners, or who won the last few World Series’. Who were the NCAA champions from last year? Who won the Ryder cup in 1971, or in 1973? I could not begin to tell you, and suspect many others would not know without looking it up. The tournament in 1969 most likely has been forgotten about, with the exception for the moment of pure sportsmanship as displayed by Nicholas. Moments like these will stand the test of time.
The 2015 Solheim Cup will be remembered, not so much for the final score. The desire to win fueled the short term decisions and actions on the 17th hole. These actions may have been legal as per the rules of the game, and by no means a negative on par with cheating or using tactics to detract from the other side, but this tournament will be forever linked to the 17th hole between Lee and Petterson. The winner will be reduced to a footnote in history.
Short term desires will be just that, short term. Successes predicated on what will work now will most likely not matter or be a positive in the long term. Should someone do whatever it takes to win at all costs today, when the victory will not matter in history? How many businesses have suffered due to a decision that made money short term, but undermined the business over the long haul? What about politicians making decisions to get re-elected or to make their constituents happy, but was an overall negative for the country as a whole?
The world of sports matters little in the meaning of life. Essentially, it’s just a distraction from the world for a short time. It’s fun to watch and in some cases play, but it will not be the end-all, be-all of life. However, sometimes sports can provide valuable lessons in leadership and life. If you were playing an important golf tournament, would you choose to be like Nicholas and concede and still be a winner, or would you have forced Jacklin to finish? Nicholas could have ended the tournament and the United States could have won the cup instead of retaining it via a tie, but we would have lost this beautiful moment in the midst of competition. A short term thinker would force Jacklin to finish and win the tournament. A long-term visionary thinking would make the same decision as Nicholas, leaving a lasting legacy. Nicholas made the best decision he could have made, and in a sense, everyone won as a result.