American Jordan Spieth reacts after getting a bogey on the ninth hole during the third round at the 144th Open Championship, St.Andrews on July 19 2015. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI. | License Photo
Earlier this month, millions were fixated on two television spectaculars. One was political, the Republican Party's maiden debate in the presidential sweepstakes with participants limited to only "natural born" U.S. citizens (Ted Cruz hopefully is listening.) The second was the PGA Championship, one of golf's annual four major tournaments with international participants of world-class ability.
The GOP debate turned into a two-course delight in which attempts at showmanship dominated substance. The first course kicked off in quiet, pre prime time featuring seven candidates who lacked sufficient poll numbers to make it to the main event. The top ten, too, were relatively unknown except for Jeb Bush who was trying for the "hat trick" of becoming the third member of his family to occupy the Oval Office and Donald Trump, the current leader of the pack, awash in ubiquitous media coverage.
Professional golf and its PGA Championship and three other majors are unique sporting events. No other sport requires its players to self-administer rules and call penalties on themselves when in violation or adhere to standards of conduct on and off the course that are impeccable. Furthermore, camaraderie among competitors is real and civil and no player would publicly register glee over an adversary's misfortunes -- quite the opposite.
This tournament, played on Pete Dye's diabolical masterpiece Whistling Straits on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan, was filled with anticipation. Golf's number one player, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, was returning to competition after a lengthy recovery from a broken ankle. Twenty-two year old superstar Jordan Spieth was in pursuit of winning a third major victory in a single year, only accomplished by the legend Ben Hogan decades ago and more recently by Tiger Woods.
The Australian Jason Day was after his first major title following a heartbreaking loss in June at the U.S. Open played in Tacoma's Chambers Bay course, battling vertigo and a month later in an ever so close finish in the British Open Championship played at St. Andrews in Edinburgh, the home of golf. American Dustin Johnson would show his grit recovering from a four over par eight on the first hole of the PGA final round, with memories of missed a short birdie putt on number eighteen at Chambers Bay costing him the U.S. Open.
Spieth summed up all these qualities that separate golf from other sports. On one of the final back nine holes, his playing partner Day hit a 385-yard drive landing in the center of a narrow fairway. At that point, Spieth later admitted that no one would catch Jason. Indeed, Day's score of twenty under par was the lowest winning figure of any major. Having won two majors earlier in the year, Spieth seemed genuinely pleased with Day's first major win. Imagine this same magnanimity in boxing matches; football games; or other sports in which winning was everything.
It is probably impossible to imagine politics would be like if it followed golf in embracing these high and enduring standards of civility, sportsmanship and professionalism. Indeed, many politicians would regard this question as ranging from absurd and naïve to seriously uninformed. As a gross order of comparison, where in politics are the great men and women to enforce these standards as occur in the golfing world?
In golf, enforcers are the greats and the legends. In politics today, who are the equivalent Robert Jones, Arnold Palmers, Jack Nicklauses, Gary Players and dozens of others, young and old alike? In golf, how the game is played is as or more important as who wins that game. In politics, winning is the game. In golf, competition raises the bar bring forth more good players. In politics, competition is too often demeaning denying entry to those at to make a difference.
In golf, etiquette calls for recognizing the great shots of competitors. In politics, etiquette requires giving as little positive recognition to the oppositions as possible. And while no one prefers losing, in golf, dignity and civility trump anger and vindictiveness. In politics, civility is usually missing in action.
A more frightening proposition is to reverse this proposition. Suppose golf followed politics? Fair play would fall victim to foul play. Rules would count less. And the values that have made and will continue to make golf great would be twisted from doing one's best to doing whatever it takes to win.
This would not be a good thing and the game of golf would surely suffer.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.