From Chapter 14 “Integrity” in Ingredients of Outliers.
“Because that’s what we do.”
Over the years, the one sport that has seemed to avoid most of the scandals, which have plagued other sports, is golf. Now, I’m not talking about the personal lives of prominent golfers, but about how the sport itself is played. For example, golf is the only popular sport in which there are no referees overseeing the action on the course; the players themselves are responsible for playing by the rules and for penalizing themselves for any sort of violations of those rules, whether those violations are seen by others or not.
Imagine a baseball game without umpires, where each pitch would almost certainly trigger a heated debate between pitcher and batter. The games would go on endlessly. The golfer, by contrast, is his own official, responsible for following the rules—no mean feat by the way, judging by the size and complexity of golf ’s official rule book.
Over the years, there have been widespread reports of golfers calling penalties on themselves, often for infractions of which no one else is aware. In addition to perhaps a one-stroke or two-stroke penalty, the financial consequences can be enormous. That golfers will do it regularly is a testimony to the standards of integrity present on the golf course.
One of the most vivid recent infractions involved a British golfer named Brian Davis, who called a penalty on himself for an infraction he wasn’t even certain he had committed. Nevertheless, he not only called attention to it, but insisted that TV replays be reviewed to decide the matter.
Davis, who was born in London in 1974, became a professional golfer in 1994. He played primarily on the European tour until 2006, when he decided to join the PGA tour here in the U.S. While he had won a couple of tournaments in Europe, he had yet to win a PGA event.
He came close to his first victory on American soil in 2010, when he sank a long putt on the 72nd hole of the Verizon Heritage Classic in Las Vegas to tie Jim Furyk for the lead, forcing a “sudden death” playoff. On the first playoff hole, Furyk was on the green with his second shot, while Davis’s shot was in a hazard. After reaching the green on his next shot, Davis felt he might have inadvertently brushed a loose reed on his back swing, a two-stroke penalty.
No one, including Davis, saw it happen, but he called over an official and asked to have the shot replayed on a nearby TV camera. The real time review showed nothing and Davis would have been well within his rights to continue play, but he insisted the shot be shown again in slow motion. Almost imperceptibly, it showed that his clubhead had barely brushed a reed and hadn’t impacted his swing in any way. However, that reed—or “a loose impediment” in golf terminology—had indeed moved, incurring a two-stroke penalty.
Davis immediately called that penalty on himself, ending the playoff, and resulting in a victory for Furyk. The difference in prize money between first and second place was $400,000! But Davis was quick to point out that a great deal more was at stake than the prize money. “No,” he said. “It probably cost me more like $2 million. A win would’ve gotten me into the Masters. My endorsement bonuses would have kicked in. A win opens so many doors… . There’s no price you could put on it. It cost me $400,000 on that Sunday. But how much did it really cost me? Who knows? Winning at the Verizon Heritage would’ve been awesome. Probably the hardest thing is knowing how much a win can possibly change your career.”
Asked if he thought about all that before insisting on the review, he said, “No. I thought I saw something move and I wanted to check. Because that’s what we do. That’s what golfers do.”
The late Grantland Rice was perhaps the most famous and well respected sportswriter of the first half of the twentieth century. Golf was among his favorite sports and he once said: “Eighteen holes of match play will teach you more about your foe than eighteen years of dealing with him across a desk.” That’s a test of integrity Brian Davis would have easily passed.
A Look in the Mirror
If you’re a football fan, you may recognize the name John McKay. McKay was a prominent football coach who, after a successful college coaching career at the University of Southern California, was recruited to become the first head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, when that team began play in the National Football League (NFL).
McKay was very popular with the media because he could nearly always be counted on for a quotable comment or two during his post-game interviews. Many of his comments were humorous or sarcastic, but one of my favorites is about integrity. Here’s what he said: “I am a big believer in the ‘mirror test.’ All that matters is if you can look in the mirror and honestly tell the person you see there that you’ve done your best.”
In mentioning the “mirror test,” McKay was almost certainly referring to a well-known poem that seemed especially popular in professional football circles. For example, Bill Parcells recited it when retiring from his illustrious career as an NFL head coach, and has been erroneously credited on occasion as the poet.
The Guy in the Glass, about the importance of living a life of integrity, was written in 1934 by Peter “Dale” Wimbrow, Sr. He died in 1954, but his children still faithfully preserve and protect the gift he left for us.
You can read the entire poem at http://www.theguyintheglass.com/gig.htm.
It ends with these powerful words:
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.
So, if you’re the guy—or the gal—who can look in the mirror and see a friend, someone you’re proud of, congratulations on being a person of integrity.
Earlier, I mentioned sportswriter Grantland Rice and his quote about how a round of golf reveals the character or the integrity of a player. What’s probably Rice’s most famous quote describes the ultimate measure of one’s integrity, no matter what field of endeavor he or she has chosen in life.
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.