Like many sports enthusiasts, I sat with rapt attention last weekend watching 59-year-old Tom Watson defy father time and all matter of plausibility by coming within one putting stroke of winning the British Open. His grace and poise impressed all of us; however, the eventual winner Stewart Cink impressed me even more, for two reasons:
1) He knew that 99% of the gallery and worldwide television audience was rooting against him in the four-hole playoff he waged with Watson, and there was absolutely nothing that he could do about it.
2) During his victory speech, he invoked his faith in an unusual and refreshing way.
While this was not a hostile audience, Cink knew that he was in a delicate situation, going up against an overwhelming sentimental favorite (the Scotland gallery was rooting for Watson even over the British golfers in the field). He handled this situation the way that I would counsel a client who was about to give a presentation before a potentially disagreeable audience: with respect, earnestness, and grace. Cink did not take the partisanship personally, he respected and appreciated the gallery's biases, he competed earnestly and without fear, and won with grace and class.
Even more noteworthy was how he credited his faith for helping him win without being obnoxious or polarizing. This is a touchy subject, I know — I probably shouldn't even be blogging about it. I abhor when athletes with strong religious backgrounds remark how "God was on my side today," or solemly state that "God just didn't want me to win today."
There are few things more ridiculous, and more off-putting, than the notion that God cares who wins one of our recreational pastimes. I think our supreme being has better things to do than take a rooting interest in us. But Cink phrased it differently:
"I lift this [trophy] up to God for giving me the ability to withstand the pressures and obstacles I face on the golf course."
To my ear, this is a completely different message. Cink knows that winning or losing is a function of his performance and that he is solely responsible for how well he performs. In order to perform well, everyone needs to find his or her inner strength and Cink has found his through his faith.
His was not an in-your-face expression of his religious beliefs. It was not intended to be divisive or evangelical, and I don't believe anyone took it that way. I think that religion finds its highest form when it gives people the strength to do great things, and that was what Cink represented with his eloquence.
As a presentations coach, I often spend many hours helping people find that inner strength — sometimes in vain. As a pramatist, I don't much care where it comes from. Some people find it through a confidence they were born with, some from a passion for their work. Some get it from the love of people close to them, and others from their faith.
But the presenters/performers who generally have difficulty tapping into this reservoir are the ones who describe their primary emotion as fear of failure. They become far too conscious of external matters and rarely channel their inner being, the one that usually knows innately how to accomplish the task at hand.
If God is the ingredient that can get them to turn inward and find the strength of character to perform at their best, that is a happy ending, in my book.
Your mileage may vary; we're talking religion, after all. Do you agree that Stewart Cink allowed his faith to bring out the best in him and his was a simple acknowledgment of that? Or do you nonetheless feel that his remarks were over the top and inappropriate? If so, let me have it…