Friday, June 8, 2007

Winners, Learners and Losers

Katie Detlesen is a winner at both golf and life!

Golf is a Great Separator of Character
by Charlie Leck [8 June 2007]

Kristine Wessinger, the University of Minnesota women’s golf coach, was at the Minnesota State High School Golf Championship this week, watching a couple of possible recruits. She’s a charming woman and I predict great success for her and her program. I happened to be working the championship as a rules official (representing the Minnesota Golf Association). The weather was beating up both the golf course and the players. The players were also rushed and pushed by us and high school officials, in an attempt to beat some nasty weather that was “supposed” to be rolling in. I felt badly that I was going to have to ask the group that Wessinger was watching to take it up a notch in terms of speed. You hate to rattle any player’s game and, certainly, I hated to do that to a potential recruit for a college scholarship.

I apologized to the coach, explaining what I was going to do. Wessinger didn’t seem to mind and I gathered it would give her an opportunity to see how her “potential” reacted under the added pressure. This part of the story has a nice ending. The young recruit wasn’t rattled and responded to the request to play more quickly. She banged a couple of drives far down the fairways and stuck two approach shots in neatly close to the hole.

The winner of the championship, for the fourth consecutive year, was the golfing phenom, Katie Detlesen, from Minnehaha Academy. Over the two days, I had to ask her group to play a bit of speed golf also. Detlesen never flinched. One could tell she was a seasoned tournament player who was accustomed to this kind of request. She didn’t put any added pressure on herself. Though she quickened her game, she still made lovely, smooth, accurate shots with every swing.

Oh, how golf brings out the character of those who play the game. Other sports do it also, but none as much as golf. Golf tests the attributes of character that one is going to have to use in life’s quest for success and achievement. Detlesen may end up on the pro tour or she may not. As the kids say: “Whatever!” Her golf game is a pretty good predictor that she’ll be successful in whatever she chooses to do.

Following this championship, as I was turning in my radio and saying “ta-ta” to my supervisor, I ran in to a young girl who was crying her heart out about her poor play over the two days of the championship. I stopped to chat with her.

“It was the pressure to play so quickly,” she said.

Her parents chimed in. The officials had pushed too hard and had observed too closely. The girl wasn’t used to playing quickly.

I tried to explain the complexities of championship golf at higher levels – that pressures of all sorts would test one’s game. It isn’t only the golf course and one’s current swing. It’s all the outside interference, including galleries, officials, weather and the pace of play that, at times, seems interminably slow. The player who plays well at the championship level is one who learns to deal with and handle all these interferences to his or her concentration.

Probably, the parents had a good case. We, as officials, could have handled the situation a little more delicately. We were feeling our own pressures. Those anxieties were testing our own character. We probably didn’t respond as well to those pressures as we should have and we were put off our game as much as some of the players were. We’re accustomed to dealing with hardened tournament players, not youngsters who are new to the experience.

On behalf of all the officials, I apologized to the young competitor and urged her to keep playing tournament golf, even though her high school career had come to an end. If she does, she’ll learn to deal with all the strange, non-golf pressures that come with playing the game at the tournament level. The event was a great learning experience for this young lady. If she processes the experience correctly, she’ll benefit positively from it.

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