Why I play: golf and tennis enthusiasts speak out about their love and their games.
Golfers won't even talk tennis--or any other sport for that matter. To them, there's golf, then everything else. Their game is more than a hobby or pastime, they insist. It's an obsession that takes hold and doesn't let go. To them, golf represents the "ultimate" in competition and requires the ultimate in discipline, patience, and respect for the game and one's opponents.
Tennis players agree that golf is the ultimate--but only if you're talking about expense. "It costs way too much," many of them said--and, worse, it's way too slow. Tennis is a game for athletes, they declare, noting the fact that, unlike golf, they actually have to wear sneakers to play. Golf is a game for former athletes, they say, and anyone else who likes to mosey along in pretty settings swinging a big club at a little ball, barely breaking a sweat. Not sure whose side to take? Keep on reading, and you decide.
1. Jay Saddler--Tennis 2002 Men's Champion, Division A
Day Job: Senior Executive, CIO Organization, Accenture
Home Base: Chicago
First Played: Age 7
Incentive: My parents lived across the street from a public park in St. Louis and they got into playing, then they got my brother and me into it. There was a coach who gave lessons to neighborhood kids at the park. Ultimately, he coached Arthur Ashe as well.
Rewards: Early on I was driven by the desire to win and the knowledge that you could be the best. At 10 and 11 years old, I was the best in my division. That felt great and it carries over into other things. The most significant thing I get from it now is great friendships.
Eau de Love: I was always passionate about playing. I love everything about the game. I love stepping onto the court, the heat of it, the one-to-one competition of it. I even love the smell of it--that fresh smell when you pop open a new can of tennis balls is great. I love that it's all completely dependent on you and that it doesn't matter if you're 6'6 or 5'2. If you have the right mental attitude and a decent skill level, you can play this game.
Road Work: We grew up playing the tennis circuit, locally and regionally, all through high school and into college. Then I got married, had a child, and didn't play for 20 years.
Back in Love Again: Six years ago, my company sent me to the BE Golf & Tennis Challenge and I played for the first time in years. It was just like riding a bike. It felt so natural; I was hooked all over again. I loved it as a kid; I love it now.
On the Rebound: I got home [from the Challenge] and joined a tennis club downtown. I've been playing six to eight hours a week ever since.
Ouch!: I've tried golf and I like it, but tennis is still my game of choice. I always tell myself that I will pursue golf when I get too old to play tennis anymore.
2. Margo Westmoreland--Tennis 2003 Ladies Champion, Division B
Day Job: Federal Officer, U.S. Department of Labor
Home Base: Ridgeland, Mississippi
First Played: 2000
Incentive: My girlfriend and her daughter played and they got me started.
Split Decision: I love tennis, but I also love to ski. I do a lot of league tennis, and I'm a member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. They're so different, I can't choose one over the other but I definitely play tennis more than I ski. Tennis is a year-round sport, and I'm out there every weekend and a few nights a week. It's right here where I am; I don't have to travel to get to it like I do skiing. But I would love to ski more.
Trophy Time: All tournament players are ranked by the USTA from 2.0 to 5.0. Most women top out at a 4.5. When I was a 2.0, I won everything. When I was a 2.5, I won everything. When I was a 3.0, I won everything. Now that I'm a 3.5, I'm mediocre-I win some, I lose some.
Watch Out: Ply forehand is pretty serious.
Working on It: Ply backhand still needs some work. I went from trying it one-handed to realizing a two-handed works best for me. But I'm still working on that, too.
Why I Play: I get to exercise and I like the competition and the challenge of tennis. But the real draw for me is the fellowship and the fun of it. It's serious competition, but it's also a lot of laughs!
3. Jeff Wood--Golf Men's A Flight 2003 Winner, First Place Low Gross
Day Job: CEO, STEP Inc.
Home Base: Knoxville, Tennessee
First Played: 1993
Incentive: My partner told me that I needed to learn how to play for business reasons. He took me out to the driving range and showed me the basics.
Push Back: I didn't want to play golf. I thought it was a silly, sissy game.
First Impressions: I've always had good hand-eye coordination, so from the start, I could hit [the ball] and I was hooked.
Funny Thing: If you can't hit it, you get even more hooked.
Social Skills: There are so many people I would never have met if I didn't play golf. Memorial Day Weekend I played in Miami with Michael Jordan and Dan Plarino. Pretty much every pro athlete I've ever met, I met playing golf.
Business Impact: I've made so many deals and contacts on the golf course that I can't even put a figure on what it's meant to my business.
Cheap Advice: It can be an economical way to handle consultants. I used to take my accountant and my attorney out. I'd ride in the cart with my accountant the first nine holes, and ride with my attorney the last nine. By the time we were done, rd had a good two hours with each of them for a lot less than it would have cost me to meet them at the office.
Busted: They finally got hip to me, so they won't play with me now.
Psych 101: You learn a lot about people by how they play golf. Can they focus? Are they risk takers? Do they frustrate easily? Do they cheat? The game requires you to be mindful and respectful of the other person. Can they do that? Are they talking on your shot, or stepping in your line? Do they congratulate you when you make a good shot or try to lift you up when you make a bad shot? If they behave badly on the golf course, chances are they're the same off the course. I have opted not to do business with people just based on what I see when we're out there playing.
Paradise Found: There's nothing like shooting that perfect shot in the perfect setting and having the perfect outcome. That's what it's all about.
Do the Math: I probably play 18 holes, three times a week, 52 weeks a year. (That's more than 2,800 holes a year, folks!)
Why I Play: It's as fair a sport as you can play, it's ever challenging, ever changing, and it cannot be mastered.
4. Marion A. Whittaker--Golf 2002 Ladies 13 Flight Winner, First Place Low Gross 2003 Ladies B Flight Winner, First Place Low Gross
Day Job: Principal, Law Offices of Marion A. Whittaker
Home Base: San Jose, California
Let's Talk: I love golf so much I could talk about it for days. I started playing about 10 years ago and it's made everything about my life so much better.
Where the Girls Are: At one point, I had so much trouble finding ladies to play with that I started a business called Lady Golf Ltd. We ran golf clinics and had fashion shows, but it was all designed to encourage more women into the game.
Just Let Me Play: I gave it up because it was taking too much time. I already had a law practice. I didn't want another business, I just wanted to play.
Anytime, Anyplace: I play year round, one or two days a week. I'll play 18 holes or 36-whatever my schedule will allow me to do. I can be the first one out there or the last. I'll play in the heat, the rain, the sun, you name it. The only thing I will not play in is lightning.
Peace Please: Golf is great for networking and getting a sense of accomplishment. For some people, that's why they play. For me, it's the peace. Golf makes you slow clown and live in the moment. We're always multitasking, especially us women. You've got to be totally one-dimensional with golf. You have to focus and just be there.
Natural High: Golfing is beautiful. There's the beauty of the courses and being in nature. There are no cars, no telephones. There's nothing to listen to except the sounds of nature and that wonderful sound when you hit the ball and you know it's going to be just right. You don't even have to look at the ball.
Life Lessons: Golf has taught me to let the bad stuff go. If you hit a bad shot, you have to let it go, or you'll keep hitting bad shots. It's true in golf, it's true in life. Just let all that stuff go and move forward with the attitude that the next one will be better.
5. R. Larry Brown--Golf Men's A Flight 2002 Winner, First Place Low Net
Day Job: Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, FedEx Express
Home Base: Memphis, Tennessee First Played: The mid '70s
Incentive: It was sort of a dare. I had gone to undergrad with a guy who had become an avid player. I had always been pretty athletic. He wasn't. I figured if he could play, I could play twice as well and I told him so.
Reality Check: We went to a public course and after nine holes I had shot a 64. That was it for me. I was hooked. I could not believe the game was that challenging!
Mission Impossible: For people who are fairly competitive and fairly successful at sports generally, they just cannot believe this game can beat them. So they get out there again and again, thinking the same thing: I am going to master this game!
Ante Up: Most folks are out there playing for a few bucks that maybe they're going to drop into a charity cup on the corner on the way home. But even if you're just playing for $5, that is the most important $5 in the world! It's not about the money, it's how we keep score.
Fringe Benefits: In corporate America, [golf] helps you fit in. If you don't golf or play tennis, you wouldn't be interacting with a lot of people at levels that are beneficial.
Best of Times: The best I ever shot was a 74. That was years ago, but I still remember the feeling.
No Home on the Range: Your game cannot improve if you don't practice, and I never practice anymore. I just don't have the time. I don't even warm up before my first shot. It's that bad.
To-Do List: My game is probably in the neighborhood of "as good as it's gonna get," so I'm past having goals. Just let me play as much and as often as I possibly can.
6. Pamela Whyte--Golf Championship Ladies Flight 2001 and 2002 Second Place Winner/Championship Ladies Flight 2003 Winner
Day Job: Long-term Care Insurance Specialist
Home Base: Playa del Rey, California First Played: 1993
Incentive: I had moved to Los Angeles from England and I said, "Hell, I'm not doing anything right now, let me get out and try this!" So I went to the range to hit and a PGA instructor spotted me and said I looked pretty athletic and he started giving me pointers. He kept me on the range for about six months after that, just helping me get the fundamentals down.
Beginner's Luck: My friends got me out on a course in England--it was my very first time-and I hit a hole in one on a 138-yard par 3. Boy was it fun to call home and tell [my instructor] what happened!
Best of Times: I've been coming to The Challenge since 2001. In those four years, I've met so many folks from all over the country. These are people I've now done business with, played in other tournaments with, and become really good friends with. It's a wonderful camaraderie.
What a Difference: I'm a two-time British high-jump champion and a two-time British trampoline champion, so I've always been athletic. But golf is a whole different breed of sport. In high jump and trampoline, I always knew that if I hit a certain spot a certain way, I'd get a certain outcome. With golf, you can play the same course every day and every day is going to be completely different. That ball goes someplace new every time.
Let's Go Pro: As a passionate golfer, there's nothing I'd like more than to play professionally. Reality says it's probably not going to happen, but I would give my left leg and my right arm for the opportunity.
Pros & Cons: I drive the ball so well that the guys don't want me to play from the ladies tees. They want me in the back on their blue tees, but I have not mastered getting out of the sand. That's my Achilles' heel.
Nothing but the Truth: Someone once said to me, 'If you've ever played golf, you've cheated and you've lied.' It's true that if you move that little ball a tiny half-inch, it can completely change your round. So, of course, it's terribly tempting. And, you know, they all lie about their handicaps!
The Pledge: If you play golf with me, we're going to have a great time, but we're not going to cheat or lie. It's one of the things I love about golf: It's a game of honor.
Purple Reign: My only goal for this year's Challenge is to defend my title. That purple jacket is so cute, I want another one!
7. Travell Williams--Golf Hen's B Flight 2003 Winner, First Place Low Gross
Day Job: Partner, CUNVI Investments
Home Base: Dallas
First Played: Back in 1989, my boss at the time asked me if I wanted to go out and hit some bails. I said yes, and when we got to the course and the pro asked if I wanted to buy or rent clubs, I said I'd buy. So, from then on, I was committed.
Lucky Break: I got lucky that day. It was the first time I'd played and the people we played with were amazed at how decent I was. We played 27 holes and number 11 was a long par 4. I smacked it off the tee and got it just below the hole. When you have that kind of first round, it gets you pretty excited. As a bonus, my boss ended up paying for those clubs.
Slow and Steady Wins: With fast-paced sports, you don't have the time to think about what you're doing. You're just doing it and you either do it right or you don't. Before you know it, the game is over. With golf, you're forced to think about the challenge you're facing at every turn. So, yes it's slow, but that makes it as much a mental sport as well as a physical one. I think the slow pace actually increases the challenge and the discipline you need to win.
Reality Check: Growing up, I was always at the top of whatever sports I played--basketball, softball, all of it. Golf treats you very differently. Maybe you're a naturally great driver, but that short game will humble you. Or maybe it's the opposite. Golf is not for the faint of heart.
Positive Feedback: When you play with people who hold potential business opportunities, if you play well, it will have a positive impact on their perception of you as a business person. I'm not saying if you're a horrible player, people will dismiss you. But being a good player is definitely a plus.
Out of Bounds: There are some folks who I will not play golf with and I will not do business with. Golf brings out things in a person, having to do with their level of honesty or temperament, that basketball or even tennis won't necessarily show you.
8. Leonard Herring Jr.--Golf 2002 Men's Tennis Champion, Division B
Day Job: CEO and president, Celebrity Golf and Tennis Ltd.
Home Base: West Hollywood, California
First Played: As a teenager
Incentive: There was a tennis club near my parents' house in Cincinnati and it was closed to [African Americans], but I used to watch them play all the time, and I learned enough observing that by the time I got on a court myself, t could play pretty well.
Hands Off: I didn't really like to be touched much, so team sports never appealed to me. I liked the individualism of tennis, and the lack of contact.
Close Encounter: I met Arthur Ashe when we were playing together in an ATA (American Tennis Association) tournament at Wilberforce University. He was a high school student at the time. That was the start of a wonderful friendship that lasted until his [death].
Fitness First: Tennis keeps you in shape. Tennis and swimming are the two best sports for that. And once you know how to I do them, you don't forget. As long as you can move, you can always pick it back up.
Ageless Wonder: I love the game. I love playing it, watching it, coaching it, even talking about it. I coached Cincinnati's National Junior Tennis League boys and girls club to three consecutive national championships in the early '70s. Now, I'm a tennis pro at Le Montrose Suite Hotel in West Hollywood, so I still give lessons a few times a week.
9. Carla Gibson Baker--Tennis 2003 Ladies Champion, Division C, and her husband, George Baker, 2003 Men's Tennis Champion, Division B
Day Job: Carla is a judicial assistant and George is a retired engineer
Home Base: New Orleans
Truly a Love Match: It's a second marriage for both of us. We met on a tennis court on March 14,1998. I was playing in a ladies league every Sunday. He was playing with the guys and he came over and introduced himself. That was it. We started dating.
George: That was it.
An Open Invitation: He proposed the following June while we were watching the French Open on television. It wasn't even during a commercial]
George: I hadn't planned to ask that day at that time, but I had already bought the ring and I figured it was as good a time as any.
The Sporting Life: I told him I'd consider it. A few hours later, while we were watching the NBA Playoffs, I said yes.
George: She had to talk to her mother first.
Let 'Em Eat Cake: We didn't have a tennis wedding, but the groom's cake was made into a tennis court. And when he picked out our house, the first thing he did was walk the yard, measuring to make sure we could build a tennis court. The house was fine, but that was the key.
George: I wouldn't have bought the property if it couldn't accommodate a tennis court, and I probably wouldn't have married her if she wasn't interested in tennis.
Simply the Best: He's a much better player than I am, but when we play mixed doubles, he's really good about it. We never argue on the court. Now, when we play singles against each other, that's a bit different. I always try to whip him, but he shows no mercy.
George: Generally, I don't argue at all about anything. If we're playing as a team, we're a team. But if I'm playing against you, whoever you are, I like to win.
On the Clock: Since he retired, George plays tennis at least 15 or 20 hours a week. If he's not playing tennis, he's fishing. I still work, but I work to live, not the other way around. So I work from 8 to 5, and play from 6 to about 8 two or three times a week.
George: She likes to fish, too. That was a bonus.
Family Feud: George has two daughters, I have a son. All our kids are grown and none of them plays tennis. My son plays golf. I say golf is a hobby, tennis is a sport. I tell my son, I'll play golf when I can't run down a ball anymore!
George: That's right. Maybe when I get older and I can't chase that little yellow ball anymore, I'll go chase the little white one-in a cart.
The Battle of the Balls
Tennis vs. Golf: MaliVai Washington wonders which is tougher to master?
It's the perennial split decision, Golfers say golf is the ultimate challenge. Tennis players insist theirs is a much tougher game. In search of a reliable answer, we asked someone who's good at both for his opinion
In 1996, MaliVai Washington was one match away from winning the biggest tennis tournament in the world at Wimbledon when he lost to Richard Krajicek. He never did win a Grand Slam event, but he made a significant impact on the world of tennis as the only African American male since Arthur Ashe to even reach such heights at the time.
Following a knee injury in 1997, Washington later retired from pro tennis and promptly took up golf. Today, at 36, Washington runs his own real estate brokerage firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. He also provided tennis commentary for ESPN and runs the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation, established in 1994 to encourage positive life skills and academic performance in children through the sport of tennis. Oh--and he's an 11 handicap at golf.
These days, Washington logs far more time on courses than on courts, but his heart still belongs to tennis.
"I can't say I love golf," says Washington. "I'm still learning and developing my skills and that drives me ..."
"Meanwhile, my tennis game isn't developing any more, but I still have this love for the game of tennis. I love announcing the game, and I love watching great players because I have such a strong appreciation for what it takes to play tennis at their level."
While Washington admits that his affection for tennis remains strong, he also hasn't been able to resist being drawn to the unique challenges that golfing offers. He first took up the game in ]997 when his foundation hosted a charity event, and although he insists "if I never picked up a golf club again in life, I'd be fine," a minute later he volunteers that his goal for this year is to drop his handicap into the single digits. In fact, Washington has a bet with a buddy who lives in Australia about who will get there first.
"I'm going to win," he says with confidence. "The winner gets whatever he wants--within reason."
Washington concedes that, while tennis and golf are very different, there are certain skills that are assets in both. "Hand-eye coordination, of course, and under standing the intricacies of spin and back-spin helps," he says.
But which game is actually harder to play?
"Let me put it this way," says Washington. "I've known quite a few tennis players who've become great golfers, but I don't know any golfers who've become great tennis players."
Why does he suppose that is?
"It's simple. Tennis is more difficult." Take that, Tiger.
Tiger Woods in How I Play Golf (Warner Books Inc., 2001)
I love golf as much for its frankness as for those rare occasions when it rewards a wink with a smile.
[Golf] is pure, honest, and immune to sweet talk. It cannot be burn-rushed. You must court it slowly and patiently. Any other strategy will be met with a rebuff that has for centuries made grown men and women cry.
Golf affords you supreme independence. Ultimately, it is you against yourself. It always comes down to how well you know yourself, your ability, [and] your limitations.
I have been infatuated with the game since my pop first put a club in my hands when I was a toddler. I was an only child, and the club and ball became my playmates. That feeling of solitude and self-reliance enhanced the game's attraction for me and endures today.
You must have the heart and head to play a shot and the courage to accept the consequences.
Golf is a great mirror, often revealing things about you that even you didn't know. It cannot be misled. Still we try.
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|Title Annotation:||SPORTS FEATURE|
|Author:||Clarke, Caroline V.|
|Article Type:||Panel Discussion|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2005|
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