I have little interest in golf, but I’m always on the lookout for villains.
That’s why I had to stop and click when I saw the following headline: Crowd against him, villainous Patrick Reed stands tall at Augusta National.
Who was this villain, Patrick Reed? What had he done to turn the crowd against him? After Tiger Woods’s ignominious fall from grace, how had evil reappeared in the ordered world of manicured greens, hushed commentaries, and neatly-pressed polyester slacks?
I had to read further.
Actually, I had to read much further – into an entirely different article – before I discovered the reasons for Reed’s unpopularity. According to reports, he was kicked off the University of Georgia golf team for alleged character issues – cheating and stealing from his own team members. Reed denied these accusations, asserting that he had actually been ejected for alcohol violations.
After that, Reed switched schools to Augusta State, apparently alienating his own teammates to the point that they rooted against him in intercollege play. And when his estranged parents showed up to bury the hatchet by supporting him at the U.S. Open, Reed buried the hatchet in their backs by having security escort them off the course and revoke their passes.
These stories shed some light on one writer’s observation that, “Reed’s game plan for the week emulated his hero, the man he literally fashions himself after, Tiger Woods.” Given his own personal history, it’s not surprising that he would choose to model himself after an extraordinary athlete whose character and reputation crumbled in direct proportion to his success and fame.
Fortunately, there are still a few luminaries in the firmament of professional sports that we can admire. It’s a pity that Reed didn’t choose a hero like Phil Mickelson, who overcame childhood klutziness and psoriatic arthritis to rank among the greatest golfers of all time. Despite questionable reports of enmity from his peers over a decade ago, Mr. Mickelson enjoys almost universal popularity today for his unassuming persona and passionate philanthropy.
The road to character is longer for some than for others. Young Jordan Spieth seems to have it in abundance; fans and colleagues alike admire his combination of athletic brilliance and personal virtues. For most of us, however, character is something we must develop through slow, painstaking perseverance.
This is an essential truth of our humanity: we have to train ourselves to overcome the self-serving impulses of our base animal nature and harness them by tapping into the higher qualities of the human soul. Ironically, fame, wealth, and power often prove the most obstructive challenges on the difficult journey toward refinement of character.
King Solomon says, A man’s pride will prove his downfall, but the humble in spirit will attain honor.
Our upside-down world conditions us to choose our heroes from among those whose talent for hitting or throwing a ball has made them rich and famous. There’s nothing wrong with being impressed by their prowess. But we can at least look a little deeper and reflect on which of these so-called champions display corresponding greatness in their conduct off the course, off the court, and off the field.
There will always be contrarians who work to cultivate a disreputable image and seem to thrive on disappointing the crowd with their success. But this is a perversion. The highest honor comes in the form of respect from respectable people and praise from those who are themselves most worthy of praise.
In our personal and professional lives, we best serve our own interests by emulating honorable people, not merely winners. By doing so, we may better appreciate the real greatness of everyday, anonymous champions of integrity who are the true heroes of human society.