But whatever you call it--a draw (soccer), a push (blackjack), a dead heat (track)--the tie best reflects life, which is usually neither a thrill of victory nor an agony of defeat, but something in that vast muddle in between.
Remember when Tiger Woods and Ernie Els agreed after three playoff holes, in gathering darkness, to call their match at the 2003 Presidents Cup? The halved match meant an overall tie, which was apt, and not only because Tiger is half Thai.
To avoid saying that two teams are equal, we've conceived all manner of unsatisfying gimmicks with urgent-sounding names: shootout, sudden death, golden goal. But on that night in South Africa, two individuals did not decide a team game on one hole played in the dark. Instead, the world's two best golfers shook hands and called it a draw. "I have never seen two teams that played harder and better," said U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus, "and I did not find a team that deserved to lose."
It's usually the winning coach who says of a close contest, "It's a shame someone had to lose." But if it's such a shame, why have we turned all of our contests into zero-sum games? At the Presidents Cup, Nicklaus recognized that a tied contest is not the same as a no-win situation. "I think," he said of the experience, "it will enrich the lives of all our guys forever."
How many wins do that? Sometimes, tying isn't everything. It's the only thing.
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