Finding Common Ground in Competition

By Kathy Kemper

Published 7/6/2009
The Hill

Tiger Woods’s AT&T National Tournament, hosted at the historic Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., is all about excellence in competition. Tiger and his fellow PGA professionals don’t compete so much against each other as they do against a common opponent: the course — in this case, Congressional’s mighty Blue Course. I asked several of the players how that could be the case. How could they all be so sportsmanlike? How could they all respect and admire one another?

Fred Couples told me, “We share common opponents — wind and heat.”
Vijay Singh agreed, saying, “We bond every week going up against the course, the rain, you name it. We share our gripes. We all joke with each other. The guys realize how lucky we are to be out here. People take time off of work to see us. How bad can it be?”

Jim Furyk said, “We bond in our banter every day about the course and conditions.”

Tiger put it best. On Saturday, after his par-70 round tied him for first place with young Anthony Kim, he said, “It was a tough day out there. The wind was all over the place. It was hard to figure out not just the intensity, but also the direction. As I was saying earlier to some of these guys, Pamps and I got fooled a few times today. It was just one of those things where you had to grind it out and get through it.”

That he refers to his playing partner Rod Pampling as “Pamps” shows the camaraderie that they share in attacking their common opponent.

In most sports, athletes view their competitors as enemies. Roger Federer and Andy Roddick weren’t joking around in the locker room before or after their final at Wimbledon this year, I’m certain. You don’t see professional swimmers schmoozing with one another at swim meets, or elite bikers making small talk at the Tour de France. What makes golf so extraordinary is that the athletes’ sportsmanship doesn’t take away from the fierceness of the competition — just look into Tiger’s eyes when he’s getting ready to tee off or watch how he pumps his fists when he sinks an impossible putt.

Our elected leaders could learn a lot from golf’s leading lights — they, too, share common opponents, at home and abroad. Indeed, the problems that our nation faces increasingly transcend party lines.

Start at home: Our infrastructure is crumbling. Unemployment is almost 10 percent, and almost one in four teenagers can’t find a job. It’s getting harder for children to go to college because tuition rates are soaring. America is losing its edge in scientific and technological innovation. The list goes on and on.

The story’s no different when we look beyond our own borders. There’s the financial crisis, climate change and the war in Afghanistan. Iraq could slip back into chaos now that our troops are leaving. Pakistan is growing more unstable by the day. North Korea is threatening us and its neighbors with missile attacks. Again, the list continues.

These problems don’t matter to just one party; they’re common opponents affecting all of us, a message that we ought to take to heart as we leave Independence Day behind.

More and more people are getting the message — that’s why you see organizations like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Center for a New American Security gaining prominence. But is that message — that we need to fight the country’s common problems rather than each other — getting to the politicians in Washington?

Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., U.S.A, that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.

About the author

Coach Kathy Kemper, known as “Coach” to many, is Founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a non-profit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership, civility, and finding common ground, locally, nationally, and in the world community.

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