Saturday, June 15, 2013

It’s Not What You Are, It’s Who You Are.

That is a message I repeat time and again to the students and athletes I work with in my job.  I remind them that WHAT you are can change at any moment, WHO you are does not.  We’ve sent our graduates out into the world equipped them with what they need to accomplish amazing things.  More important to me is how we have contributed to who they have and will become.

Merion Golf Club's East Course
Which bring us to the summer.  I’m terrible at golf.  If the members of the TU are anything, it is horrible at golf.  As we begin our summer break, the 2013 U.S. Open is taking place at the East Course at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  Those who make a living playing professional golf are living the dream, or nightmare depending on your perspective.  This year’s open venue seems to be making it more of a nightmare and promises a wonderful finish. 

When I watch golf I take a lot of naps. Not because I am bored.  In fact I am fascinated by pro golf .  And one player fascinates me more than any other.  Tiger Woods.  I love to watch him but have never been a huge fan.  Not because of his golf.  He's an amazing athlete and competitor and in some ways bigger than the game.    If you need evidence of how Woods transcends golf I remember when my daughter was 3,  she knew of  Tiger Woods and asked to watch the Masters.  He’s a legend.  But I never really liked Tiger because of how he acted.   And with Tiger there’s a “but”.  I try not to be a hater but there is something else in the room besides his on course behavior when discussing Tiger.  Yep.  It’s that.  Tiger is and to some degree has, always acted like a jerk.   His actions while married are inexcusable and deplorable.  No matter what he wins and does as a professional it will and should be there.  To me he just doesn’t seem to get it. 

They are both really good at golf.
That statement is true of far too many professional athletes who measure their lives by WHAT they do.  They become so driven by success and what they want to be. They tend to forget who they are becoming.   The spotlight of the media and scrutiny of public life cannot be easy things.  But people given such gifts, no matter how hard they work for them, should never take them for granted and as public figures should accept the additional burden of their impact on others.  Teachers and coaches get this.  It puzzles me why so many pros don’t.

The Michelsons
Even though the news seems to probe for their missteps and are presented with a wealth of opportunities, many athletes serve as great role models with who they are.  Enter my favorite golfer.  “Lefty” also known as Phil Michelson.   He’s a golfer.  He’s classy.  He’s a great person.  He’s a great role model.   While his resume at majors doesn’t quite stack up to Woods 14 so far, “Lefty” gets my vote for WHO he is.    

2006 US Open, Michelson reacts with the Double Bogey.
I know neither player well and admit to having no sound basis for judgment save their public actions.  If you look solely at raw talent, Woods may take the lead, but off the course it is no contest.  What I mean is that Michelson distances himself in the things that should matter most.  In 1999 Michelson wore a beeper and stated outright that if it went off during the U.S. Open, he would leave to be there for the birth of his child.  Fourteen years later that same child is graduating from the 8th grade and on the eve of the 2013 US Open he flies back and forth across the country  to hear her speak at her ceremony.  He’s  finished 2nd in the US Open 5 times. He has given the lead up late and I remember when he gave up the lead in 2006 with a double bogey on the 72nd hole and what did he do afterwards.  Throw his clubs? Curse?  Avoid the media?  No.  As a window to who he is, he made a point to apologize to his supporters.  Lefty is in contention this year.  Do I want him to win.  Yes.  Will I be sad if he doesn’t?  No.

We can all struggle with personal relationships and I don’t mean to pick on Tiger.  But it is tough to forgive some things.   Mostly the WHO type things.  I admire Ben Hogan who knew all too well how quickly the WHAT can be taken away.  His horrific car wreck in 1949 was supposed to keep him from walking let alone playing.  Inspired by letters from people who cared WHO he was, he went on to play and win as he continued his epic career.  Another guy I admire is Arnold Palmer met and traveled with his wife on tour why I find it ironic that he and Woods appear on the cover of PGA 2013.   We can't forget the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus.  Watching in 1986 when he won with his son on the bag.  Wow.  Those guys care about WHO they are first.
Hogan was struck by a greyhound and threw himself in front of his wife during the wreck.
As we all continue to watch the tournament play out we will no doubt treated to some pretty dramatic moments.   Let’s remember a few things. 

#1 I am terrible at golf.   
#2 As we cheer them on by yelling obnoxious phrases when they tee off or salute them arriving on the green be sure we appreciate who they are  as much as what they do. 
#3 During those goosebump inducing video montages steeped with history and emotional music give some pause to WHO the great figures of golf were and what they meant to the sport and the people in it. 
#4 Whoever wins will be a US Open Champion.  That’s what they’ll be.  While the title is theirs for now, next year there will be another champion taking their place.   What will always remain with them is who they are.   When they play their last tournament they’ll walk away and have to live with who they are and that's what will matter long after the cheers of the gallery fade.   

Go Lefty!

They'll be competing on Sunday.  
Happy Father's Day.  

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