Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maybe age really IS just a number

As both a golfer and a person of a certain age...Tom Friedman's column from Tuesday's New York Times was music to my ears. The way I figure it, if 59 is the new 30, then certainly 40 is the new 20, so I'm back to being about 21!

To just about anyone, what Tom Watson accomplished at age 59 while making a serious run at the British Open championship, is amazing. Amazing is an overused word, I know, but not in this case. Just like Dara Torres' performance during the 2008 Summer Olympics, it gave those of us who are no longer 25 someone to cheer for and something to cheer about. And Watson and Torres also share another trait, they are very classy athletes and competitors. Watson is the epitome of the old-school golf champ. Always a good sport, never one to complain about his lie or make excuses, he knows that golf is a cruel game. An especially cruel one if you saw the match from Turnberry with it's cratered bunkers and grassy roughs. And yet, through it all, even toward the final hole of the playoff, where you could see the toll the match had taken on both men, Watson was focused and in the moment. While his form and swing may have been altered by the fatigue of the day, his nature was steady and you never saw any break of form in the context of sportsmanship.

I fear that I'll sound even more old fashioned than I did yesterday, but this kind of sportsmanship--this level of class in competition--is too rarely found in this day and age. That's why I think it is imperative that when it is on exhibition, even in the most quiet and understated way, it needs to be lauded loudly. It's so much easier to be a poor sport than a real sportsman--to make excuses about the weather, about your opponent, about officiating. To whinge on about your contract and how the press doesn't "get you." As Friedman points out beautifully in his column, like golf, life ain't fair. What sets certain people apart--and imprints their legacies on our hearts and minds--is how they cope with, or react to, the slings and arrows of life.

Seeing someone we can relate to--because of age, or position or whatever the reason--successfully compete or survive the aforementioned slings and arrows is enriching and life affirming. Friedman relates a great story about Betty Comden and Adolph Green (the writers of Singin' In the Rain) and Leonard Bernstein's response when they showed him Gene Kelly's famous scene for the first time. Bernstein is said to have commented, "that scene is an affirmation of life."

We all need these moments to remind us of The Possible. All the stuff out there that is possible. Sure there is a laundry list of things most of us will never do, but that's okay. There's also a parallel list of opportunities, things we might do, things we could do...possibilities. Tom Watson, at age 59, competing vigorously with people MUCH younger (but less experienced) than himself, reminds us of what can be. What we can strive for and be inspired to do or create. As always, it involves a risk of failing or appearing to be "too seasoned" for any given task. But with great risk comes great reward.

For those of us who are looking for work and trying to find our niche in this new economy, Tom Watson is a shining example of just keeping on--of what can happen through good, steady, quiet achievement. He's the poster boy for being a great competitor, treating opponents with respect and tipping your hat to your fans. Class and good manners have no age limit or minimum and they are always in fashion. Timeless lessons for anyone at any stage of any career or sport.

Once more to the breach, then, ladies and the Tom Watsons of the world and how brilliantly they inspire us and represent what is best about sport, competition, and people.

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