THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: Nicklaus’s sporting concession

The slight easing of coronavirus restrictions last week has permitted the return of some outdoor sport.

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 11:40 am
Rev David Clarke

Tennis players have been on court, and golfers have returned to the fairways. The professional game, of course, has been in full swing, with tennis stars competing in the Australian Open, and golfers engaged in endless competitions, many of them held in the USA.

In late February the WGC-Workday Championship was held at the interestingly named Concession Golf Club in Florida. Some names are magical in the world of golf; courses such as Augusta National, home of ‘The Masters’, The Old Course at St. Andrews’, Pebble Beach in California. The name ‘Concession Golf Club’ demands explanation.

Back in 1969 the Ryder Cup golf competition between The United States and Great Britain and Ireland was reaching a climax at Royal Birkdale, at Southport near Liverpool. The scores were tied, and all depended on the outcome of the final match between the American Jack Nicklaus (‘The Golden Bear’) and Englishman Tony Jacklin. On the final green Jacklin was faced with a short putt, perhaps only two-feet, to halve the match and the competition. One can only imagine the pressure Jacklin must have felt, with the eyes of massed spectators upon him; and the fear that, were he to miss, his failure would live in countless memories. Dramatically, Nicklaus did not ask him to make the putt, to save him from the pressure and the possible ignominy. As a result, the contest ended as a tie.

A few, no doubt, were displeased by Nicklaus’s concession. Had Jacklin missed the putt, the United States would have won the competition. Others, however, saw his action as the ultimate expression of sportsmanship. The friendship the two players already had was deepened by the gesture, and they later combined to design the Florida course that is now known as ‘Concession’. His sporting gesture still shines ‘like a good deed in a naughty world’, a world where fielders still tamper with the cricket ball, and footballers ‘dive’ to ‘win’ a penalty.

Nicklaus showed the considerate spirit that Paul commended in one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, his great ‘Hymn to love’ in 1st Corinthians. Love has been defined as ‘that which seeks another person’s highest good’. Paul gave examples of how it plays out in real life; ‘Love is never selfish...never glad when others go wrong… always slow to expose’.

In Dickens’ great novel, ‘Bleak House’ Esther Summerson is a trainee teacher, who marries a hard-working but illiterate labourer. He cannot write, and simply makes his mark on the marriage register; and she, out of consideration, does exactly the same. Esther explains to a watching friend; ‘He’s a dear good fellow, really, and I wouldn’t shame him for the world’.

That’s the spirit for us all to cultivate.