John Livingston

Who is on the Bag?

An incredible story came out of my hometown of Columbus Ohio this morning. One of the great “non-major” golf tournaments played on one of the greatest golf courses in the world—Muirfield Village was the scene where Victor Hovland won the tournament on the 73rd hole (overtime). His paycheck was $3.6 million. I have had the pleasure and honor of playing that course several times and a few times with friends and family from Boise. Before the property was a golf course my teenage buddies and I would ride our bikes through the hills and across the creeks that I now look at on TV. Let’s just say I know the setting and the masterpiece that Mr. Jack Nicklaus created out of land as people were making fun of him in the early 1970’s for an investment in “a worthless piece of real estate”.

The golf course and the tournament are ways that Mr. Nicklaus has given back to his sport and his community and are one of so many examples of gratitude and an ongoing demonstration of a legacy of commitment and service. When a player—now a champion of that tournament demonstrates those same qualities, Mr. Nicklaus must think “This is what it is all about”. His example has meant something to the younger generations. Both today are nodding to each other’s characters across the Scioto River.

Victor Hovland has won five times in four years on the tour. Making a living playing golf is almost impossible. I would hate to have to be the 125th best surgeon in the country to make enough for my family, but in pro golf only 125 men possess an exempt status to play in all the tournaments. After his win yesterday, Mr. Hovland will be ranked number 5 in the world. Like Mr. Nicklaus his tour ranking doesn’t begin to tell the story of the man he is.

This morning, after winning one of the biggest tournaments of the year, Victor Haviland is caddying 36 holes—two rounds morning and evening, at Brookside Country Club just across the River from Muirfield. He is caddying for his college roommate and teammate at Oklahoma State University Zach Bauchow who is trying to qualify on “golf’s longest day” for the US Open. Zach is currently ranked 1859 in the world golf rankings. A long way from #5. I am certain that Mr. Hovland doesn’t have better things to do today after winning $3.7 million than help his friend and teammate get over “the hump”.

Loyalty, keeping a promise, staying true to a commitment are virtues seldom seen today inside or outside of sport. They all require taking ourselves outside the picture of our lives and placing “our self” at the corner of the picture. Think of those who serve—our military, first responders, mothers and fathers all who put their own interests behind those they are serving.

So many of our institutions today, including the church, government, large corporations, hospital systems, and non-profits and our military are led by people who seem to be serving themselves ahead of others. That is a bad place to be in not only for the server, but the “servee”. When non-profit hospital systems pay their CEOs $18 million/2yrs it begs the question—who is serving whom. When legislators and City Father’s in municipalities take $5000 campaign checks from outside lobbyists or developers when the citizens, they are sworn to serve can barely muster up a $100 check who is supplicant to whom?

The Easter season Mandatum—the washing of the feet is the great example of service before.

John 13: 2-17 “If I your Lord wash your feet, you also should wash one and other’s feet.”

We are called on to serve each other in many ways—physically, emotionally, spiritually. Sounds like the job description for a caddy “on the bag”. Mr. Hovland was serving his brother, maybe even in time of need.

$18 million could sure wash a lot of feet one would think? So could a many thousand-dollar campaign contribution. Who does the contribution serve anyway, the politician trying to get reelected or the corporation or developer doing business before the legislature or city council? Certainly not citizens—WE THE PEOPLE.

Going forward I will try to be a better “washer of feet”. As we are entrusted with helping others in good and bad times, we should try to place ourselves at the corner of the picture and not at center stage.

For me, the caddy and the golfer are a metaphor. The doer of the physical task needs spiritual and emotional support. Isn’t that what a friend is, a mother or father, a mentor or teacher? There is more to the process than the physical act. The caddy doesn’t swing the club, but a good caddy sure helps you visualize the shot—and the next and the next.

The gratitude, loyalty and act of charity that Mr. Hovland showed to his friend today I am sure is making Mr. Nicklaus smile. The legacy of his career and his witness to virtue will continue hopefully for a long time into the future. We need to start washing more feet.

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