Recent events in the world of sports have made lies of two myths.
Perhaps, as politicians believe, if you repeat something often enough people will start to believe it’s true. Oftentimes it’s not.
Let’s begin with the tall poppy syndrome. In the week following the latest poor behaviour of Nick Kyrgios, Jason Day won the US PGA. Both are successful and wealthy beyond the dreams of most and yet one is universally admired, the other condemned.
The answer is simple enough: we like and admire how one behaves and reject the actions of the other. Our approach to successful people has always been based on the values they reflect rather than on the fact of their success. Can you think of one exception?
In all fields of endeavour we have celebrated those who have aspired to achieve extraordinary things and applauded when they did. As long as they did it in a manner that reflects the values we hold dear.
Jason Day has them all. Dedication, perseverance, immense talent, resilience and humility. More than that he has handled all manner of personal tragedies with dignity – as he has the many near misses before the triumph at the PGA.
A friend asked me after Jason’s win why it is that our tennis players can’t behave with the same dignity and sportsmanship that Jason, Adam and all the others so regularly display. It’s a little unfair in a way because most players do, but there are differences in the games – and those who run them.
Golf, unlike any other sport, is predicated on honour and respect: for your opponents, yourself and the game.
Poor behaviour will neither be tolerated nor excused. Is there another sport where participants commit a foul unnoticed by anyone else and then declare a penalty on themselves that might lead to a tournament being lost? A high premium is placed on decency and honesty and those who fall short rarely make it to the top.
The battle is as much against the course and yourself as it is your opponents.
For instance, few who saw Jordan Spieth’s gracious thumbs up to Jason on the 16th green at the PGA will ever forget it. Jason won’t. A generous acceptance of his opponent’s superiority on the day and the silent promise that the tables might be turned next time. It’s a prospect to savour.
This ties in with that crusty old excuse for bad behaviour: nice guys don’t finish first. They do, regularly… and always have.
Rafter, Cawley, Scott, Freeman, Thurston, Cronk, Stosur, O’Neill, Gilmore and Fanning, are just a few who spring instantly to mind. Happily, there are hundreds of others.
On surfboards, tennis courts, basketball and netball courts (go the Diamonds!), footy and cricket fields. Everywhere.
It’s important to remember you can be “nice” and play hard, but being a tough competitor doesn’t mean disrespecting your opponent or the game you are playing. It’s something Anthony Mundine (amongst others) has never understood. Hopefully, Kyrgios will.
Pressure simply doesn’t get more intense than that endured by Jason as he was being shadowed relentlessly by Jordan. He withstood it with profound self-belief, poise and ability.
I remember after Ian Baker-Finch won the British Open and his game started to implode (for a variety of complex reasons), some said he was “too nice”. By that, it was meant he signed
autographs, was pleasant to everyone, and had time for those who had helped him along the way. Being “nice” had nothing to do with his decline, but everything to do with the nature of his success — as athlete and man.
Ian is an incredibly kind and decent person with terrific insights bred at the coalface. As (our) luck would have it, he has now taken those same qualities into the world of commentary.
How appropriate that he was there to describe Jason’s victory.
Nice guys, tall poppies, finishing first.