Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Veterans and Youngsters

This is a story based on golf but ultimately about life, so if you (inexplicably) are not a golf fan, you should refrain from rolling your eyes and muttering under your breath about preachers and golf. Last Sunday at the Tournament Players Championship, two players vied neck and neck for the win on the final day, in the final pairing. One is thirty-six, has over thirty wins, and is considered the second best player in the world. The other is twenty-four, has one tour win, and is considered a future top ten player.

They entered the second-to-last hole with the veteran, Phil Mickelson, two strokes ahead of the youngster, Sean O’Hair. A two-stroke lead with two holes to play is not easily surmountable (or lost), so O’Hair aggressively “went for the pin” on the water-surrounded 17th and put his shot in the water. After taking a stroke penalty, he went for it again and put the second one in the water. By the time he finished the hole, he had made a quadruple bogey and dropped from 2nd to 11th place, which cost him over $600,000 in prize money. It was mesmerizing, like watching a teenager parallel park or Joe Biden give a speech.

O’Hair handled himself with class and dignity afterwards, Mickelson was gracious in affirming his aggressive will to win (instead of settling for 2nd place), and many commentators have lauded O’Hair’s courage. Be that as it may, I saw this played out as a generational tale.

Consider the veteran commentator in his late fifties, Johnny Miller, who kept exclaiming on the air before the shot that O’Hair was using too much club and might go into the water. Consider the cool veteran, Mickelson, who used to be called “Phil-a-thrill” because he took so many reckless chances on the course, occasionally costing him a victory. What would they have said to the fiery youngster as he teed up the ball?

It occurred to me how often this scene plays itself out in one form or another, the youngster with the fire and ambition but the lack of experience and judgment, and the cool veteran who could offer so much wisdom from his experience if he were ever asked.

And don’t think this is about age. Each of us is a youngster in some ways and a veteran in others. I know of a man who is 93 years old and mentors people in their 70’s. You’re never too old to learn. And you’re never too young to mentor.

So here’s a suggestion: Find people in your life whose wisdom and experience you can learn from, and actively solicit it. And find people in your life who are walking a few steps behind you on the journey, and actively befriend and help them. What a beautiful symmetry that creates in our own life and in the lives of others.

I think particularly of the church, and of the men in the church, who could learn from and bless one another so much. “Veteran, behold your youngster. Youngster, behold your veteran.” The hardest overture is to offer your wisdom, not to ask for it. So youngsters, let’s ASK older men for their wisdom. Likewise, it’s hardest to ask for friendship, easiest to offer it. So veterans, let’s OFFER our friendship to younger men. That way, everybody wins and no one ends up in the water.


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