Father’s Day Story

Posted on: June 13th, 2010 by Jeff Ritter 2 Comments

Spirit of the Game

Story from Jeff Ritter’s Bestselling Book

“Your Kid Ate a Divot! Eighteen Life Lessons From the Links”

To me the notion of losing connection with art, music and athletics in our world is disappointing. Everyday programs are being cut or dropped from our education system. Schools are only concerned with learning as it relates to testing standards, versus actual comprehension. There are no classes on wealth management, communication or conflict resolution. The things which would be of real help. The focus has been taken away from what makes our hearts soar, the things that make the experience of being human a worth while ride to begin with.

Who has ever sung out loud about a business meeting or danced about reaching some arbitrary sales quota? These aren’t the things we live for. The question I ask is, “What gives us the roller coaster of emotions associated with sports?” The feeling of setting a goal, climbing the mountain, testing our minds and bodies knowing win or lose the journey alone will be worth more than any victory.

On a trip to my hometown I was disappointed to learn one of the high schools was cutting their golf program. I thought, “What what would it have been like if my teammates had never had the opportunity to play in school?” PGA Tour star Jim Furyk was our best player and likely would have taken the same road he has today, but perhaps if golf was not part of the school culture, he may have become more interested in other pursuits. Of the ten players on my team, I can count five who have made their careers in the game. The others play and compete for fun in all types of events to this day.

The lessons learned from the game and the impact on their lives are incalculable. What other game teaches lessons of accountability, work ethic, etiquette and care for nature the way golf does? In most other games the importance of winning outweighs the desire to do what is right. Never will you see a football player knowingly catch a ball out of bounds, then correct the official when he is called in. The message is, winning trumps honesty. Golf must be embraced as something more than a game, for the lessons learned on the links mirror how we handle the world around us.

Golf gives us a taste of all that is good in a day’s time. Connecting with nature, the smell of the grass, and the feel of the warm sun on your neck. It gives us the sense of being alive amongst your friends, your heart in your throat, the thrill of victory and the acceptance of defeat. At the end of a round, there is even the oddly pleasurable soreness in your feet after removing your shoes from a long day’s walk on the links.

I have enjoyed all of these gifts and as I grow older have become even more thankful for what the game has given me. There are so many good moments I can hold onto as if they were yesterday. I’ll never forget as a kid, watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters. I had never felt so inspired rooting for someone, lying in front of the television, pounding my fist into the carpet with excitement. I sent him a letter telling how amazing it was to see him play. It came back signed which I had framed hanging on my bedroom wall. Those are the things that bring excitement to your childhood. The things that make you believe in miracles and turn you into a dreamer.

As an adult I had the opportunity to visit Augusta for the Masters Tournament. I remember walking through the gate, gazing down Magnolia Lane, once again recalling the feelings I had watching as a kid. It was almost surreal as I raced about the course, savoring every inch of the landscape. I think this is why I found my life in teaching. I always wanted to be close to the game, to inspire people and make a difference in the world.

In my coaching, a man had contacted me about his struggles with anxiety on the golf course. His problem, was even though he would only play for fun, he would continuously make excuses for missed shots. He would then adjust his score, saying if he was, “really concentrating,” he would do better. This bothered him. He wasn’t trying to cheat on his score for his buddies or his handicap. He was doing it to try and feel better about himself.

My advice revolved around awareness and the idea he was connecting his golf score to his self worth. We had a discussion about acceptance and the idea he needed to institute more accountability into his golf game. He called weeks later and told me he had realized how his emotions on the golf course were a reflection of how he behaved in the rest of his life. He went on to say, “Our discussion was a catalyst for positive change away from the course as well.”  My role was trying to help his enjoyment of the game, but in the game of golf and the game of life, there is no separation. “To conquer one’s self is a far greater task than conquering others.” This is what the game is all about.

I’ll end with a story which sums up what the game has meant to me. A fun adventure about two families who played in a tournament, one fantastic summer day.

The kids were best of friends and always played together in the Junior Golf Program at the club. The parents were close as well and enjoyed each other’s close proximity in the neighborhood where they all lived. It was Fourth of July weekend and they were eager to play in the club’s annual Parent-Child Match Play competition. Trophies would be handed out, and the winning team would have their names inscribed on a plaque on the grill room wall, but no one honestly cared about that. They were just content to compete against each other the way they did in the backyard or school field they would often journey to. As the temperature rose, the children cooled themselves by running through the sprinklers as they sprayed about the lush green fairways.  One of the fathers, who was known for being crazy, did the same and soon the entire foursome was soaking wet, laughing with pleasure.

At the turn, they stopped to enjoy one of the famous hot dogs from the snack bar. They piled the dogs high with mustard, sauerkraut and ketchup. The kids were messy as usual with ketchup streaks running across their cheeks and stains dripping down their shirts. The mothers joined to watch and even found the infuriatingly disgusting eating habits to be raucously amusing.

The back nine went back and forth, a chip in here, a great drive there, high fives abounding. Parent and child began to strategize with each other. Rarely could a young boy feel like he could advise his father, but today was different. There was a sense of oneness and they communicated and played as equals.

On the fifteenth hole their play was halted by a group of deer who stopped about the fairway to feed on the grass and leafy trees. The kids had never seen such animals up close and they watched in amazement until the deer were back on their way.

At the final hole the match was all square, until one of the boys sank a monster of a putt to win. The losing team fell to the ground in a comical depiction of defeat as the winning boy was hoisted onto his father’s shoulders. As he was lowered to the ground, the boys removed their caps and shook each other’s hands in respect for their friendship and recognition of a great round played.

For the boys, swimming ensued, while the parents enjoyed live music and a fantastic pig roast put on by the club. As the fireworks lit the summer sky, they could not help but think of how it was such a special day.

Through the years the children grew and the families moved apart. As the world becomes a smaller place it is tough to keep the ones you love close to you. If every kid could have it his way, the perfect life would be lived skateboarding in a cul-de-sac or playing catch in the backyard. However, the only constant in life is change and no matter how much we fight it, we know these moments and places are only temporary as there is more out there to see.

Years later, the families were drawn together to pay tribute to their pro who was retiring after a lifetime of dedicated service to the club. The conversation flowed effortlessly as ever and all were doubled up in laughter reliving the stories from years past.  Amidst the laughter, one of the boys, now much older, paused for a moment. His eyes gazed to the floor in reflection. You could see his smile had become a touch smaller and more genuine.  As he reconnected with the group, a gentle tone accompanied his voice. “Do you remember the day we played golf?” The others halted to listen. They had played hundreds of rounds together, but for some reason everyone knew he could only be speaking of the day they competed with their father’s.

They all smiled and began their remembrances of the the big match. The group soaking wet from their run through the sprinklers, even the deer and the amazing hot dogs they had gobbled down at the turn. They all told stories of the day and were amazed at how much everyone had remembered in such detail. It was, the perfect snapshot of childhood joy.

It’s an amazing thing, but just one round of golf can be filled with enough wonderful moments to live with you forever. It reminds us that golf is more, much more than a game. It challenges our minds, lifts our spirits, fills our hearts and connects us with all that is good in the world.

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2 Responses

  1. Nice, been looking for what seems like an eternity trying to find information on this.

  2. Roman Taborn says:

    Well what can I say? great post and I completely agree with you on all points and I am thinking about adding a link on my blog to your blog post because its that good.

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