About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

09 November 2010

Playing the Ball Where It Lies

Bobby Jones is certainly the greatest amateur golfer who ever lived, and a strong argument can be made that he should be recognized as the greatest golfer ever. His climb to that dizzying height began in 1923, when he won his first major championship - the U.S. Open - at Inwood CC, Inwood, NY. It ended in 1930, when he retired after reaching the top of golf's Mt. Everest. He won all four majors that year - accomplishing what has come to be known as golf's Grand Slam - including his last competitive outing, the U.S. Amateur at Merion Cricket Club, Ardmore, PA. In between, he won 11 other majors - 3 U.S. Opens, 3 British Opens, 3 U.S. Amateurs, and 2 British Amateurs - in 18 tries.

Jones accomplished all this while devoting only about a quarter of his time to golf. The rest of it was spent pursuing a law degree, and practicing law once he obtained it. Besides his playing prowess, he is remembered for co-designing and building Augusta National Golf Club and founding The Masters golf tournament.

Among the many things worth knowing about Bobby Jones, there are two I want to point to in particular.

The first involves an incident during the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester CC, Worcester, MA. During the play of one of the early holes in the final round, his ball dribbled into the rough just off the fairway. As he addressed the ball in preparation to play his next shot, the ball moved imperceptibly. He immediately turned to the nearby tournament officials, and called a penalty on himself. The officials were stunned; they hadn't seen his ball move. They asked if anyone in the gallery had seen it move; no one had. They huddled and decided that since no one had seen the ball move, the final decision was Jones'. Bobby Jones didn't hesitate for one second, and let the penalty stand. He ended up losing the tournament by a single shot. When he was praised for his gesture, Jones replied:
"You might as well praise me for not breaking into banks. There is only one way to play this game."
The second, involves the great tragedy of his life. In 1948, at the age of 46, he contracted syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity in his spinal cord causing first pain, then paralysis. He never played golf again, and in due time was relegated to a wheelchair. He died December 18, 1971. He was 69. Shortly before he died, he was asked about his illness. His answer is testament to his deep and abiding wisdom:
"I will tell you privately it's not going to get better, it's going to get worse all the time, but don't fret. Remember, we play the ball where it lies, and now let's not talk about this, ever again."
To play the ball where it lies is the most basic rule of golf. Golfers who play by this rule - accepting and handling both the good and bad breaks that come with the territory - are not only able to leave the 18th green with a score that truly means something, but also with the deep personal satisfaction that can only come from doing what's right - win, lose, or draw. Golfers who ignore it - who cheat to win - not only debase themselves in the eyes of their fellows (word gets around) but in their own eyes as well.

For Bobby Jones playing the ball where it lies was also a basic rule for living a good and noble life, and a true test of character. Do you think he passed?
"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."- Grantland Rice, sportswriter
  • Are you willing to confront the truth of even the worst of the situations you face in your life? Is there a particular lesson you've learned that you can share?
  • Do you trust someone who cheats at golf - or any other seemingly innocuous activity - to do right when it comes to the more important aspects of life?
  • How do you play the ball in your work and life?
  • What will the One Great Scorer mark against your name?
"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names." - Chinese Proverb
"The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it." - John Ruskin
"Fame is something which must be won; honor is something which must not be lost." - Arthur Schopenhauer
"There's a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities. I call that the Weasel Zone and it's where most of life happens." - Scott Adams, Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
"When another is shooting, no player should talk, whistle, hum, clink coins, or pass gas." - Willie Nelson, reciting a rule he enforces at the private golf course he built for himself and all his rowdy friends

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