This game can
make you feel good about yourself even while it's breaking your heart. That may
not be why we play, but it's a pretty good consolation prize, as I was reminded
the weekend before last.
I'm the coach of
the Columbia men's golf team, and on April 22-23 we were playing in the Ivy
League championship at Ballyowen Golf Club, in Hardyston, N.J. Though Princeton
had won four of the five previous titles, we had beaten the Tigers three times
this year, and I felt confident we could give them a run for the trophy. Sure
enough, when the final pair, Jason Gerken from Princeton and my guy, Matt Wong,
came to the last hole, we trailed by a stroke.
Both players hit
what looked to be great drives. Gerken thought that his had flown the gaping
bunker on the right side of the 18th fairway. But the day was miserable, with
heavy rain and mist so thick it was hard to follow tee shots. When Gerken got
past the bunker, he could not see his ball anywhere in the fairway.
I noticed this
and ran down to help look, joining a group of about 10 players, coaches and
parents. The rules allow a player five minutes to search for a lost ball, and
Will Green, the Princeton coach, started his watch to time the hunt. It is
sometimes possible to get a free drop--provided everyone agrees on where the
ball landed--but Green didn't think anyone was sure where Gerken's drive had
I was walking
back up the fairway when I saw the tiniest speck of white in the muddy grass.
My first thought was, Damn, I'm good at finding these things! The ball was
plugged pretty darn good. I could see only a dimple, literally. "Here it
is!" I yelled. Green's stopwatch said 4:51. With the ball found, Gerken
went on to make par, and we lost by a stroke.
I thought later
about the irony of me being the one who, in a sense, cost my team the title. I
guess I could have walked over the ball, or waited a bit longer to find it, or
not looked that hard to start with. This is my first season at Columbia, which
has won only one Ivy League title [in 1999]. It would've been great for us to
win, but I don't want to succeed that way--plus I want to set an example for my
team. If you really embrace what the game is about, then winning or losing
becomes less important.
On the van ride
home one of my guys said, "Coach did the right thing." When I heard
that, I knew that I had.