Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Honor of the Game

I could say I play golf, but maybe a more accurate description would be I play at golf. In all honesty, I’m not very good. That’s what this post is about…honesty. Golf is one of the few places where honesty and integrity are bound up with the sport itself. In professional golf, there are no referees. The players themselves are honor bound to play by the rules. If a player sees another player commit an infraction of The Rules of Golf, he or she is required to report it. It almost never comes to that though, because the player who committed the infraction, however inadvertently, will call the penalty on himself. (I’m going to abandon political correctness here for the sake of language simplification and stop saying he or she; he will have to suffice. I don’t hate women, but I do hate having the reader constantly tripping over “he/she” every time I would be forced to write it.)

The Rules of Golf were written by a group of the most anal Scotsmen ever to walk on grass. They were first set down by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland in 1754. Most casual golfers don’t even know all the rules, much less abide by them. That doesn’t make them bad people necessarily, it’s just that the rules are extremely complicated, and learning them requires more effort than the average weekend golfer is prepared to invest. Also, the penalties for infractions are very harsh and can just destroy a golfer’s score, if not disqualify him from the round altogether. Strict adherence to the rules would generate too many arguments in what is supposed to be a social game, and a four-hour round of golf would stretch out to six. However, winking at the rules does not apply to professional golfers. They take pride in knowing and following every single rule, no matter how stupid it may seem.

For example, Brian Davis, a talented English player who has yet to win on the PGA tour, was tied for the lead after regulation play had ended in a recent tournament. During the ensuing playoff, he hit his ball down into some long grass off the fairway. On his next shot, while taking his backswing, his club moved a single, long blade of grass. Brian then made a good swing and hit his ball up near the green to a spot where he could easily get it into the hole for his first tournament win. Davis stopped play and asked a PGA official to review the videotape to see if he had brushed the grass on his backswing. The review showed that he had. This is deemed by the Rules of Golf as “improving your lie” (as if brushing that single blade of grass gave the player any advantage). Result: Davis was assessed a two stroke penalty and lost the tournament. He was the only one who knew that his club may have glanced off that blade of grass, and yet he did not hesitate to call an official’s attention to the possible rules infraction, costing himself the win.

This kind of self-policing in golf is not an isolated incident. A few weeks ago, a PGA Tour rookie named Webb Simpson was ahead by a couple of strokes in the Zurich Classic. He was playing well on the last day of the tournament and it looked like nobody was going to catch him. While taking a stance to tap in a six-inch putt, he set his putter down behind the ball, not touching the ball mind you. Something, probably the wind, caused the ball to oscillate, moving fractionally and then coming to rest in its original position. Simpson stepped away from the ball and called over his playing partner and a tour official to review the situation. The Rules of Golf state that if a ball oscillates because of wind, that is OK; no penalty is assessed. In this case though, because Simpson had set his putter down behind the ball, he is deemed to have caused the ball to move; penalty 1 stroke. Nobody but Simpson saw that ball move, yet despite being a rookie and maybe a little nervous to be holding the lead in pursuit of his first tournament win, he had the character to call the penalty on himself knowing the consequences. The incident had to rattle him and he went on to finish second.

Maybe the most famous rules violation in golf happened in 1968 when Roberto DeVicenzo, a talented player from Argentina, had seemingly tied for the lead in the Masters, arguably the most prestigious tournament in golf. At the end of the day, De Vicenzo was tied with Bob Goalby. The two should have returned on Monday for an 18-hole playoff. Except that De Vicenzo's final-round playing partner, Tommy Aaron, had made a mistake on De Vicenzo's scorecard. Aaron gave De Vicenzo a par (4) on the 17th hole rather than the birdie (3) De Vicenzo had actually made. De Vicenzo failed to catch the error. When he signed the scorecard, De Vicenzo was guilty of turning in an incorrect scorecard. Under the rules of golf, the higher score that De Vicenzo signed for stood, meaning that he was credited with a 66 rather than the 65 he actually shot. And meaning that he was one stroke off the lead rather than tied and heading into a playoff. A wide television audience had witnessed him shoot the 65, but to no avail. DeVicenzo was awarded second place and deprived of a possible win that at the time would have been an enormous boost to golf in South America.

It would have been easy, even expected, for these players to whine about the Rules of Golf being so penal for what most of us would agree were insignificant violations. Instead, their responses in every case were the same: “It’s my fault. As a professional I should know the rules by which this game is played, and if I break them I must accept the consequences.” How refreshing and rare to hear such sentiments expressed. How nice it would be to hear a lying, thieving politician say something comparable after being caught in some ridiculous lie that would earn them the Pinocchio Award. I used to believe that ethics meant doing the right thing, but there is a better definition: “Doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” Amen to that, and hats off to professional golf for living by the rules.


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Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The White Man's Shame

For me, growing up on cowboy and Indian movies really left the impression that the white American settlers and the "horse soldiers" who protected them were the good guys. How dare those uncivilized red savages stand in the way of the vanguard of our country's relentless move westward in the 1800's. Some would say the end justifies the means, but the more I learn about the noble races of Native Americans that we brutally subjugated in the name "Manifest Destiny", the more sorrowful I feel for what we did to them. It started simply enough when the Pilgrims first landed. The local tribes like the Wampanoags, who first greeted and befriended them in 1620, brought corn and turkey to help them through the difficult winter; this act of kindness started a Thanksgiving tradition that is still observed today.

Unfortunately, the relationship soon soured. As more British colonists arrived in Massachusetts, they began displacing the Wampanoags from their traditional lands, particularly by plying Wampanoag men with alcohol and obtaining their signatures on land sale documents while they were drunk. The Wampanoag leader Metacomet, known as "King Philip" to the English, tried to get this practice outlawed, and when the British refused, a war ensued. The British won decisively, sold many of the Wampanoag survivors into slavery, drove the rest into hiding, and forbade the use of the Massachusett language and Wampanoag tribal names. Only in 1928 were the Wampanoag people able to reclaim their tribal identity. This was just the beginning.

Between 1778 and 1871 – when it needed Indians as allies against European powers, land for settlers spreading west, and an end to wars with the Indians themselves, the U.S. government signed hundreds of treaties with tribes offering health services, schools, teachers, and money in exchange for Indian land, trade concessions, fishing and hunting rights, and the tribes’ jurisdiction over their remaining land. But the schools the treaties authorized did little more than spread Christianity and Western culture and provide training in farming to compensate for the loss of the Indians’ livelihood. The U.S. government was ill equipped to provide mainstream education, and they failed utterly to recognize Indian languages, culture, and history.

Indians wanted to remain on their ancestral land, which Whites wanted to occupy. The solution reached by the states and the U.S. government under President Andrew Jackson was to remove the Indians from the path of white settlement. Some tribes, such as the Sac and Fox in Illinois and the Seminoles in Florida, were subdued, but they resisted removal. The Creek, Winnebago, Cherokee, and other tribes were forcibly resettled in “Indian Territory,” separated from whites. The Cherokees tried to hold onto their land by becoming “American” in customs, language, and constitution and by educating all their people through Osceola’s "alphabet" of the Cherokee language. However, the state of Georgia arrogantly refused to recognize the Cherokee Nation and declared its laws null and void.

The “Indian Territory” to which tribes were removed faced more demands by Whites who continued to move westward, taking land, killing buffalo, and further weakening the economic viability of the tribes. Constant fighting ensued as Indians valiantly but unsuccessfully resisted white threats to their civilization. The last battle that could be called a victory for the Indians was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand. On June 25 and June 26, 1876, led by the great Sioux chief Sitting Bull, the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people defeated the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army under George Armstrong Custer. It really turned out to be the Indians' last stand.

On the morning of December 29, 1890, the Sioux chief Big Foot and some 350 of his followers camped on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. Surrounding their camp was a force of U.S. troops charged with the responsibility of arresting Big Foot and disarming his warriors. Suddenly the sound of a shot pierced the early morning gloom. Within seconds the charged atmosphere erupted as Indian braves scurried to retrieve their discarded rifles and troopers fired volley after volley into the Sioux camp. Clouds of gun smoke filled the air as men, women and children scrambled for their lives. Many ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in a withering cross fire. When the smoke cleared and the shooting stopped, approximately 300 Sioux were dead, Big Foot among them. Twenty-five soldiers lost their lives. The massacre at Wounded Knee effectively ended the Indian Wars.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but no matter the pressures for national expansion that may have prevailed at the time, what we did to Native-American Indians in the United States was shameful. The white man's "certainty" that his way was the right and inevitable way justified policies that eradicated centuries-old cultures in the blink of an eye. In the time these tribes flourished, the air and water were pure, the game plentiful, and the land easily supported the people whose sacred stewardship kept the earth the way they found it for future generations. The earth on the White man's watch has not fared as well. We have exterminated hundreds of species of birds, fish and animals, torn up the hills for the coal they held, and polluted the water and air, all in the name of progress.

I've heard people joke that with all the new casinos being built, the Indians are finally getting their own back. Sadly, that is not possible. I'm sorry that when I was a kid, for all those years and through all those B movies, I was cheering for the wrong team.

(*This information is taken partially from from "The Quest for Quality Education Report of the American Indian/Alaska Native Concerns Study Committee" June 2, 2000)


Children's Craniofacial Association