I was driving down the freeway one day listening to a completely incongruous conservative talk show in San Francisco.
For some reason, the subject of Martha Stewart came up. This was in the days before her legal troubles when she was the ubiquitous, reigning queen of impeccable homemaking and entertaining, but, in particular, cooking. And the program’s hostess expressed her distain. In so many words, she said, “Oh, Martha Stewart! She is so ridiculous. Who has time to do all of that?”
I couldn’t believe that this was coming from an alleged conservative and would have jumped right into the radio if I could have.
“Are you kidding me? Thank God for Martha Stewart. Thank God for anyone who puts a stake in the ground and says, ‘This is excellence and this is what I stand for.’ If it weren’t for people like Martha Stewart, there would only be the mundane.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just Martha Stewart’s excellence that sometimes gets held in distain.
Can we be frank here? This sort of distain also frequently comes up in discussions about the “invasion” of South Korean players on the LPGA Tour. It stems almost totally from differences in culture. The Koreans are stoics; they rarely smile or show any emotion. So they have difficulty connecting with fans who have grown used to warm interactions with the players.
I remember following Nancy Lopez in San Jose, California, along with a couple thousand others. It was at the zenith of her popularity and she had managed to draw many non-golfers to the crowd.
She pulled her tee shot just into the left-hand rough and the throngs began to sweep down the rope line ahead of her. I know because I was one of the first ones to reach her ball. And so, as she flowed up to the immediate area, a sweet, older woman who had obviously never attended a tournament before, called out to her, “Nancy! Nancy! It’s over here!”
And Nancy, with her patented glowing smile, said, “Oh, thank you.” The love was definitely flowing both ways and for all I know, the old woman took up golf. (Probably not, but I like that ending better and it’s the kind of interaction that I’m sure caused many others to take up the game.)
Most of the Koreans have no connection whatever with the fans. And the other reason for that is that they have chosen not to become assimilated into our culture. Because so many of them play here, they are able to stick together and have learned only a smattering of self-conscious English. And so, in spite of some beginning efforts to ingratiate themselves with the fans, there remains a simmering gulf.
And that’s really too bad, because both the players and the fans miss each other in moments of excellence. The players play on in stoic solitude and the fans never knew it happened.
One such instance was this weekend at the Hana Bank Championship, played at the Sky 72 Oceans Course, in Incheon, South Korea.
Na Yeon Choi won by 2 strokes over second-year American, Vicky Hurst, shooting 69, 68, 69. That was excellence in and of itself, but this young woman has exuded excellence her entire three years on Tour to no particular fanfare. She has played in a grand total of 74 tournaments in her short career and missed just one cut. One! And with today’s win she’s amassed $4.2 million in earnings.
She’s ranked 1st in rounds under par, 45 of 65; 1st in birdies, 272; T7 in eagles, 6; 1st in sand saves, .660; and T1 in putts per green, 1.75.
We have a master in our midst, a master at the beginning of what should be a very long career.
To continue our petulance over the Koreans’ distance from us serves no purpose other than to deprive ourselves of being witness to golf greatness.
Hopefully we can muster a good, old-fashioned, American showering of love in spite of their behavior that will, not only leave us feeling bigger for having behaved with Nancy Lopez’ grace, but one day be reflected back to us with the graciousness we know must be in there somewhere.
I think we always have to be a stand for excellence, no matter where we find it, no matter who produces it.