I have always maintained that golf is not only the greatest sport, but also one of life’s greatest lesson givers. We learn a lot from our game. It teaches us honor, integrity, sportsmanship, how to depend only on ourselves, and a myriad of other lessons that form what we become.
This past week I saw a perfect example of why golf is the greatest of all sports.
I admit that I’m not a big fan of professional basketball, but I do enjoy watching the playoffs. When I was a teenager, I was quite a 76ers fan, and always pulled against the Lakers and the Celtics. When the Phoenix Suns knocked the defending champion Lakers out of the playoffs last week, I was quite happy. It was the end of that game that cemented why LeBron James, in my mind, will never be considered the greatest basketball player of all time.
In just about every sport, players have great respect for one another. They know how much time and effort goes into winning. Even in defeat, when their hopes and dreams have been lost, they will often congratulate the opponent for being better on that day. One needs to look no further than the handshake line at the end of a hockey playoff series to see this.
On Thursday night, before the game even ended, with defeat assured, James excused himself, left the game and went to the locker room, so that he could ignore his celebrating opponents. He dressed and spoke to no one.
This is the same man who made a point of celebrating when his team won the championship last summer. He reveled in having his hand shook by the players from the teams his Lakers disposed of en route to the title. He posed for pictures and soaked in the moment. Much like he has during his previous title wins.
When it came time for him to respond in kind, James took the low way out. He, once again, acted like a spoiled child who wasn’t picked for a sandlot game. He grabbed his ball and stomped away.
After having James’ actions turn my stomach, golf showed me that there is still hope for us.
On Saturday evening, after a stellar second round, Jon Rahm walked off the 18th green at the Memorial with only the final round left to play. His 64 was the week’s most solid round. He nearly shot 29 on the back-nine.
However, as he left the green, PGA Tour officials were waiting. There was a brief, soft-spoken discussion between Rahm and the officials. When it was complete, Rahm seemed nearly in tears.
Many feared the worst. Some news about a family tragedy or the like? It was not that, but it was news that rocked Rahm’s world. He had tested positive for COVID-19 and, by rule, must withdraw from the tournament. This meant waving goodbye to a very likely $1,674,000 winner’s check. Even second place took home just over $1 million.
The other sting comes from losing the 550 FedEx Cup points that go to the winner. While it doesn’t prevent him from winning the season’s $15 million grand prize, it means he will have to work a bit harder.
While Rahm was understandably upset, he never lashed out. He took the news with surprising calm and integrity. By his own admission, he is not fully vaccinated and this past week it came back to bite him.
In fact, had he not been in close contact with someone who was COVID-19 positive, he would not have even been tested.
The players and officials all felt for Rahm. Some players even offering alternatives to having Rahm withdraw, such as playing by himself for the final round with no one in close contact. I’m betting LeBron would never consider such an act of sportsmanship.
However, the Tour cannot bend the rules just because the leader has found himself on the wrong side of one. Had Rahm been in 30th place would anyone have really cared? Who knows.
Rahm took to Twitter and said, “This is one of those things that happens in life, one of those moments where how we respond to setback defines us as people. I am thankful that my family and I are OK. I’m, looking forward to watching the showdown tomorrow afternoon.”
If don’t want to feel for John Rahm, feel for Adam Hayes, his caddie. The standard 10% of the winner’s check means he lost a potential $167,400 payday. That is a lot of money for a Tour caddie.
Rahm took the high road when he clearly could have been bitter and disconsolate. He even watched the final round and congratulated the winner. I’ll take Rahm’s sportsmanship over LeBron’s any day.
Landry rose above those feelings and showed what true sportsmanship is all about. He showed us that he has learned many of life’s lessons. He behaved as a true gentleman instead of a man playing for millions and millions of dollars. Thank you, Mr. Landry.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. Contact him at - firstname.lastname@example.org.