Updated: Sep 27
I love sport. I love to play, and I love to watch. September 2023 is a season particularly rich in content, with a Rugby World Cup and a golf Ryder Cup served up. What a treat!
When I’m not watching sports, I binge-watch the epic series Yellowstone with Caroline (after the kids have gone to bed, of course). It’s the mafia on a ranch, with Kevin Costner radiating every inch of star power with a great supporting cast, set on gorgeous Montana backdrops and a narrative of old-school values that makes you want these thoroughly bad people to win. It’s great storytelling.
There’s a character called Jimmy. He starts off as a drug addict loser who struggles to fit in with the other cowboys but finds purpose and meaning in his surprising talent for rodeo. Without a strong personal center, the adulation of the crowds, the adoration of the girls, and the monetary rewards quickly have him redefine himself in terms of this sport and his role in it – and, predictably, a serious injury forces him into some tough choices.
He has some great character arcs. At some point he says something that I’ve heard so many 21-year-old college football stars, nursing a heavy injury but just waiting to get back out there say: “When I’m not playing this sport, I don’t know who I am.”
At some point, he gets great advice from an old and wizened cowboy. “You can’t do it for the crowds. You need to love it. You need to make it all about the horse because the two of you are going to go through hell together.”
And so Jimmy, through trial and turbulence, the school of multiple hard knocks and introspection and hardship and rejection, becomes a real cowboy. He listens to smart people and makes a decision to work as hard as he can…. And, in the process, he falls in love with the work for the sake of the work, he discovers himself, and he grows up. In the end, he wins the respect of his peers, he gets the girl… and he rides off into the sunset, a thoroughly changed man.
Now, I love the crowds. Who doesn’t? But at a recent funeral of a family friend, who had a huge impact in the business world, his church and his communities, while being well loved by his extended family… one of the tributes reminded us that Uncle Nols played a great game… but he never played it for the crowds. And isn’t that the thing? Do it because it’s worth doing. Work from your center, stay with principles, keep your team and the others front of mind, and put them first, and whatever people think is a byproduct. The adulation might well follow, but you can never let that be the goal.
As we salivate towards the start of the Ryder Cup, the premier matchup between Europe and the US, two very different stories play out. And this might be a judgment, but here we go:
Rory McIlroy, the European talisman, spent the last few years very much playing to the crowd. He presented as the very public spokesman opposing the rebel tour of LIV golf, and condemning players and former friends who made the leap to the “dark side”. I get that principles and loyalty are involved, and he felt the need to step up. But the distraction, and the effort required to make a stand, had a consequence for him. The core of his job… the core of his purpose… that suffered. He came close, but he failed to win any majors at that time. And how was he rewarded for his very public stance and comments? The PGA tour turned around and changed their tune, now happy to engage with LIV. And left Rory out to dry.
Brooks Koepka, the good ol’ boy American with the gorgeous model wife, steered clear of weighing in on the debates. Everyone tried to get him drawn into the controversy… but he just shrugged his shoulders, said talk to my agent, and got on with the job. He went to LIV Golf, secured his financial future, and focused on his game. Oh, and won a major along the way. That got him a pick into the US team… which means he got to have his cake and eat it too.
One who got sucked into playing for the crowds. And one who focused on what he needed to do for himself, and his family. It makes for fascinating subtext to what is sure to be another epic match-up. I’ll be glued to the screen!