THE COMPETITIVE SPIRIT
I’m not usually competitive. I don’t play most sports for obvious reasons. Age, height and weight combined with minimal hand-eye coordination have kept me comfortably on the sidelines. I do love golf but have never really been good enough to get all, “I’m gonna kick some ass out there today!'” about it. My greatest opponent on the golf course resides just under my hat and right between my ears. Like most golfers, I’m my own worst enemy. Too many swing thoughts do not make for low scores.
One of my buddies is Alan Kalter. He’s the redheaded announcer on David Letterman’s Late Show. We both enjoy the game and while there is no comparison in our level of play he insists on betting whenever we’re on the links. We never bet money. It’s usually ‘hats’. Sometimes it’s a sleeve of balls. He gives me all kinds of strokes and then approaches the first tee with a certain glint in his eyes that frankly unnerves me.
His reaction to the challenge is very “John Wayne”, rise to the occasion, all American hero time! He gets dialed in. I get scared. Wimpy McWilliams. I just don’t do well with the pressure. The thrill of victory never crosses my mind. As positive as I am about almost everything in my life, winning at golf doesn’t have what it takes to ‘light my fire’.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the Big Amigo made a mistake by sticking that “be the best that you can be” spark plug in our survival engines. The competitive instinct may have something to do with advancing the species. The hunter with the sharpest eye can best feed his family so lady cavemen should pick him to make babies with. I’m grateful for living in this day and age. I doubt I’d have been much in demand. I may have died a virgin!
The funny thing is that I do better and better the less competitive I am. I’ve found the desire to beat somebody at anything usually works against me. It’s also an impulse that sometimes inaugurates actions and decisions that are dangerous. Witness the photo recently sent to me by friend Marty Timm. That’s me racing at Watkins Glenn in the early eighties. Don’t try this at home.
Going fast was fun. But, my daily substance abuse had warped my sense of responsibility, my ability to properly assess the conditions of the road and the proximity of the racers around me. Not to mention how pudgy I looked in the driving suit. I thought I looked hot. And though I often joked that I’d have won those Toyota Celebrity races if I could have seen over the dash, in my heart of hearts I desperately wanted to win. Wanted to pull into that victory circle with a vengeance.
With a vengeance. And there’s the problem. There’s the ingredient in the psychic recipe that just doesn’t taste right today. I’m not thrilled about wanting to take something away from anyone. Especially the people I love. And many of the guys I raced with were dear friends. Robert Hays, James Brolin, racing greats like Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney. Good guys who were generous with instruction and forgiving of my insanities.
My competitive appetite was larger than my skill level and consequently again and again my ego driven.. uh, driving… led to spinouts, fender benders and the kind of action pictured above. I could have hurt someone, including myself.
I’d like to race again. I don’t think I’d win but I’d drive responsibly. I’d be considerate of my fellow racers and if someone was about to overtake me, rather than blocking their path with my borrowed wheels I’d stay in line and let them pass without a kamikaze swipe to derail their victory.
Of course, they’d have to catch me first. And with a quiet mind and a gentler spirit old number 1/2 might run a quicker race. I’m sure I’d fair better with a clear mind, a sober lifestyle and the gifts I’ve found running daily in gratitude and trust
Or maybe I should just work on my putting.