In almost any situation I can think of, there’s the behavior we see in people and then there’s the back story that explains that behavior. We had just such a situation at the close of the yesterday’s broadcast of The Players Championship.
It began with a shot of Ian Poulter going through his pre-shot routine on his putt, by himself, on the iconic, par 3 17th green. He had pulled the flag, it was lying on the green and, having looked at the putt from behind the hole, he was walking back to the ball to take a last look and putt it.
Analyst, Gary Koch began to set the stage. “Well, here’s Ian Poulter, he’s up on the green and here’s how he got here.”
They cut to video of Poulter running down the cart path with his putter, around to the footbridge at the back of the green and up onto the green. Koch explained that he was he was trying to beat the horn that would bring play to a close for the day.
There had been an extensive rain delay well into Poulter’s and Dustin Johnson’s round. So when play resumed, they actually had a chance to finish their round before dark. At stake were four blessed hours of additional sleep. Because so many players hadn’t even teed off before the delay, almost all the field was going to have to finish their third rounds on Sunday morning. And they had to be in position to play at 7:45 AM.
For Poulter, that meant a 5:30 AM wakeup alarm. And he was willing to do all within his power to avoid that: 5:30 or 9:30? Which would you choose?
Getting that extra sleep and time for a leisurely breakfast in the morning was so important to easing into their final round, it became a topic of discussion as they played each of their last holes: would they finish or would they have to come back out Sunday morning? And it wasn’t just them. When they arrived on the tee on the par 5 16th, the tee was backed up as it always was for such a short hole and Phil Mickelson and his partner were already there waiting for the fairway to clear. So, as most people do, they chatted about the exceptions in their lives, wondering if they were all going to beat the dreaded horn.
So fast forward back to the 17th green. Poulter proceeded to 2-putt for his par, run off the green with Johnson still on it, grabbed his driver from his bag and ran through the tunnel under the grandstands to the 18th tee as Koch and Miller bemusedly began to lay out what he was trying to do. “Now he’s got to have cooperation from the group in front because he can’t hit into Mickelson.”
As Poulter emerged from the tunnel and ran down the walkway onto the tee, the Michelson group—players, caddies, sign boy and official scorer—were just walking off the front of the tee. He called out to Mickelson who alerted the group and they began to move up against the rope line so Poulter could hit. “Yup, yup, yup. They’re going to get out of the way and let him hit,” Koch said.
But Johnny Miller wasn’t so sure about all of this. “I’m not sure about the etiquette of this.” Koch pointed out that they had seen a similar situation at Doral where players on the 9th green had allowed the group behind them to hit up so that they could finish. But that was just a par 3 and not as disruptive to the group on the green—it happens all the time. But this was a robust par 4.
“What do you think of this, Gary?”
“Well, I think it’s a little much to be honest with you, because now you start to interrupt the flow of the play of the group in front of you.”
“Yeah,” Miller agreed. “Because they have to stop now and watch him.”
And so the fuse was lit.
But Koch and Miller were not privy to that conversation on the 16th tee. They had no idea that Mickelson offered them the option of hitting their tee shot on 18 if things got close. The rule is that if play of a hole has begun before the horn sounds, you have the option of finishing the hole after the horn sounds. “Just let us know,” Michelson said.
And that was the ignition source of the explosion in the Twitterverse. Had everyone known about Michelson’s gracious sportsmanship, that would have ended it. Had Poulter been able to communicate all the facts within Twitter’s 140-character constraint, that would have ended it. But apparently he wasn’t able to because it escalated into him losing his patience with their lack of understanding and calling them Muppets. Amusing as only the outspoken Poulter can be, but perhaps not the best route for centering yourself for the final round. You walk out onto the grounds when you arrive and you’re wondering who else thinks like the Muppets? Who else is accusing me? Don’t they know? I’m innocent!
Perhaps a better route would be to understand the human condition, the fact that most people, or rather their egos, are two sentences away from being offended…and then angered…or even enraged.
So unless you know that and that reason doesn’t always work in certain circumstances—say, for example, in the realm of the long standing traditions of golf etiquette and decorum—for your own sake, you have to be able to at least walk everything back down for yourself. Because defending your righteousness against people who chose to hold a grudge is not a mindset conducive for staying in the present.
And it’s always the same: knowing that you are not your eruptible ego, always at the ready to repel attacks, but rather your serene, guiltless spiritual essence for which no defense is required.
From that place, it’s actually possible to move beyond life’s turmoil and effectively operate in the present, the only place that provides clarity, peace, joy…and a chance to shoot a 64.