What politics can learn from a golf legend
“It was a special time to see the people surrounding the last hole. I was very humbled.”
Many of you know that I love the game of golf. Its rich traditions stretch back some 600 years. And its pleasures and, yes, aggravations have made my life richer. So, no surprise that I didn’t miss much of the British Open a couple of weeks ago, as it played out in a wonderfully rewarding nail-biting finish so fittingly where the game began at Scotland’s legendary and iconic St. Andrews course.
At the end, though, it wasn’t the amazing four hole playoff win by Zach Johnson ending that stuck in my mind and heart. But rather it was a moment near nightfall on Friday. This was Tom Watson’s last British Open, a tournament he had won five times. He was playing his last round as a competitor in the Open and had finished the 17th hole as the dusk was turning to darkness. St. Andrews officials usually sound the horn to stop play at this point in the day, which would have meant that one of the sport’s most respected and honored players would have had to return in the early hours of the following morning to play that one last hole. Instead, to the applause and admiration of the throng that wanted to witness Tom Watson’s last British Open, the officials allowed him to play his last hole as darkness descended. He was not going to make the cut, but he waved and smiled to his fans as he crossed the ancient stone Swilcan Bridge for the last time. Ironically, a decade ago, he was in Jack Nicklaus’ pairing on Jack’s final round. After Jack’s tee shot on 18 in 2005, Tom Watson purposefully hung back a fair distance from Jack as they walked down the fairway. Jack kept trying to persuade Watson to walk with him, but Tom wouldn’t; this was his way of honoring golf’s Greatest as Nicklaus waved to the thousands of admirers cheering him in appreciation for all he had done for the game.
Where are the Tom Watsons of politics today? Where are the leaders with the humility to put their egos and wallets aside and do the jobs they are supposed to be doing?
Tom Watson, like Jack Nicklaus, is a sports legend, a man respected for his humility and leadership beyond his athletic skill, gracefully leaving the field. “It was a joy,” he said. “I have wonderful memories.” It was his moment but in a way entirely different than when he walked off a winner. He was heartened to have shared so many great moments with so many people. It was not about him. It was about something more. About a great game with honorable traditions that could produce a man like Tom Watson. I realized I was watching something quite unusual and significant.
It was a moment that stood in stark contrast to what we see in what passes for leadership in so much of politics and business today. From Capitol Hill to Wall Street too many of the men and women who purport to lead this country, it seems, have lost all sense of humility, public service, any higher purpose beyond “me”. There is no grace, no humility, little leadership aimed at putting aside the personal and the political and instead serving the public. We see self-serving, self-aggrandizing posturing. We see short-term thinking, in business and politics, designed only to push the issue, the problem, the bottom line through the next quarter.
Where are the Tom Watsons of politics today? Where are the leaders with the humility to put their egos and wallets aside and do the jobs they are supposed to be doing? Solving the most important policy issues of our day instead of scrabbling for headlines, personal publicity and political advantage.
There was a time when people we sent to Washington could disagree and still work together. Friendships and respect crossed the aisles of Congress. Opponents on important issues understood that they could not get everything they wanted in a piece of legislation. They did not yell and scream and take their toys and go home. They worked it out. Not always. But for the most part.
Of course politicians have always had over-sized egos. It is a job requirement it seems. But once upon a time, they also took their obligation to the voters at least as seriously as their self-serving grab for headlines. We must demand more humility and leadership from those we elect. If politics is a game, as some would say, then we must demand that those who play it on our behalf show the respect and humility of leaders blessed with a sacred obligation. As Benjamin Franklin observed, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”