If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know my dad taught me that “It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” In fact, that was the sports mantra of my youth. But when Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” sportsmanship took a backseat.
I just played in one of the most enjoyable, competitive matches of my life because sportsmanship came first. And generosity of spirit was a close second.
It was during a 4-day, 6-round “Ryder Cup” type tournament with 16 very competitive friends – 8 per team. In the final day’s singles match, I drew a woman whose nickname is Patti “Putts”. Yup, she’s such a good putter that her nickname is “Putts”. I have the same nickname…although mine is spelled with a Z.
I usually start out a match by being generous with “gimme” putts, and only become stingy if my opponent is stingy with me. But that didn’t happen with Patti Putts. On the 2nd hole, I gave her a 2 and ½ footer and she quickly reciprocated by giving me a 2 and ½ footer on the 3rd. On the 5th hole, she had a 3-footer, I had a 2-footer. I said good good? For non-golfers, that was very generous of me. But then on the very next hole, she did the same thing.
And the match had more than just generosity. Patti Putts could play, and she’s super fast (which you know I love). She’s also one of the funniest, most upbeat people I’ve ever met. I liked playing her so much I even said it would be fitting if we ended up All-Square (tied).
So on the 18th green, with her putt at 5’ and mine at 3’, I offered her a tie.
Look, would I do this if I weren’t playing a friend? No. Have I ever done this before? No. Will I ever do it again? Probably not. But at that moment, it just felt like the right thing to do. And, well, knowing Patti Putts, she was going to sink the 5-footer anyway.
Call it a tribute to Mr. Lombardi himself. In later years when asked about the quote, he said, “I wished I’d never said the thing, I meant the effort. I meant having a goal. I sure didn’t mean for people to crush human values.”