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Sunday, 2 August 2015

A Gentleman's Game

Golf is referred to as a gentleman's game.  It is a game of integrity, manners, and sportsmanship.  

There is a proverb that says, "A good reputation is worth more than gold."  This is true in golf, as well as in life.  My father was a gentleman.  He had a fine military career, travelled the world, met kings and queens, and had authority over men.  The best thing about him, from my point of view, was the fact that he never thought too highly of himself, and he showed the same respect to everyone, regardless of their position in life.

He's been gone seven years now, and I regularly have people speak to me about him.  Invariably, they say, "He was such a gentleman." It makes me proud to hear it.

My father loved the game, and was an avid player.  He was never a top player, never getting lower than a six handicap, but he played his heart out, and he was a pleasure to play with.  He regularly just went to the course and picked up a game with whoever was there, and so, the old Colonel became well known at the club.  He was also well liked, by all accounts, though the fact that I'm big and ugly probably means any detractors would have been likely to have kept any negative opinions about him to themselves, at least when speaking to me.

Steve was talking about how the old Colonel was always a stickler for playing by the rules, and how he had taught Steve how to take a legal drop during a club championship years ago.  I showed Steve how to properly move his marker out of someone's line yesterday, and Steve laughed and said, "The apple didn't fall far from the tree with you." He thought I was a lot like my old father.  I only hope he's right.

The Colonel told me, not long before his death, that I should not feel sorry for him; he felt he had had a good life, he had no regrets, and he was ready to go.  What a fine thing to be able to say.  I'm not so sure I will ever be able to say the same thing, because I have more than a few regrets.  But, I hope when I'm gone that I will have at least earned a decent reputation.  I hope, if I'm not already considered to be one, I can at least end my days with the reputation of having been a gentleman; perhaps not in my father's league, but a gentleman nonetheless.

Speaking of gentlemen, I was checking out quotes from Bobby Jones yesterday and I came upon this one: "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."  Bobby said this after he had been praised for calling a penalty on himself in a Major championship, the calling of which caused him to lose by a stroke.  Bobby didn't know what all the fuss was about.  He was simply doing what was right, and proper, as a golfer, and a gentleman.

I had a similar experience myself, certainly not in a Major, but in a club championship.  It was the first of two days, and we had played in tough conditions.  We finished the round, all of us pretty much exhausted by our labours, and hastily signed our scorecards.  

Doug Green, who no longer plays in Picton, but is considered by all to be a real gentleman, and a fine player, was marking my score. As we reviewed the card, he had me down for five on number eight, which was a par.  I had marked a four and told him so.  He, being the gentleman that he is, said, "Okay." And he changed his card to match mine.  We were both so tired, we didn't take the time to figure out who was correct.  He assumed I was in the right.

My score went in, and I went home with the lead.  Someone else, when reviewing my score and marking it on the board, remarked to me that I had had a great run of fours on my card, which included the par five eighth.  I didn't think much about it at the time, and hurried home.  Later, I got to thinking about the comment about the run of fours, and it came to me that I had missed a three footer for birdie on number eight, and that Doug Green had been correct.  How I had marked four instead of five, I'll never know.

I phoned the course and disqualified myself for signing an incorrect scorecard.  This received quite a bit of attention and praise at the club because I was leading, and, of course, no one would have been the wiser had I not said anything.  I felt the same way as Bobby Jones.  I might as well have been praised for not being a thief.

Yesterday, I played with Steve and Radar, and they were talking about Ryan Hennessy, a young golfer who had been tragically killed in a car accident this past winter.  Radar talked about what a great kid he was, and what a fine player he was.  Ryan had shot 65 at Picton, and could really play.  I think he won a club championship as well.  But what Radar remembered most about him was the time he called a penalty on himself as a junior when playing against Radar's son, John Henry; another fine young player and gentleman.  I once played a match against John Henry when he also shot, or would have shot, 65.  I was playing about as well as I could play, and would have shot 71.  Our match was over after 14 holes.  It was a pleasure to play with him, despite the drumming he gave me.  He was an absolute gentleman, actually saying how much he regretted having to dispatch me so early in our match, and in the A-flight matches.

Speaking of Ryan Hennessy, Radar said, "Imagine that; him calling a penalty on himself for his ball moving when no one would have known. And, he was still a junior at the time."

Ryan might have been a junior, but he was already a golfer, and a gentleman.  It's a crime that he went so soon.

There is a top player in the area--no names, no pack drill--who has become known for being a cheat.  He is so well known for his lack of integrity that I played him once in a match and was advised by another player before the match to watch him like a hawk.  I was fortunate enough to beat him on the day, but was struck by the fact that such a fine player was, and still is, held in such low esteem by his fellow players because he has been caught cheating.  He is a good player, with numerous wins to his credit, but he is known more for his lack of integrity than his ability to play.  We were talking about him the other day and one of the guys said, "He's the same in business.  You can't trust him."

I think the proverb is true.  If you have to choose between a good reputation and gold, or championships, choose a good reputation.  I can't remember whether Ryan won a club championship or not.  I think he did.  But, I know he was a gentleman.  That is definitely not up for debate.