In tournament golf, as in life, some things are more important than winning and losing
Michael Pope was walking off the 18th green. He had just missed his four-footer to shoot 80, and he was upset. His last chance to reach the state tournament and his dream of becoming a state champion were dwindling.
We had both shot 81 in the North Carolina Mid East 2A State Regional at Siler City Country Club. We thought that score was too high to qualify for the 2A State Championship when we got good and bad news: There was one spot left, and we'd have to face each other in a playoff for it.
Michael is a senior and I'm a sophomore, but we're good friends, having bonded over many rounds of golf during the last two years playing for Granville Central High. As we got ready for the playoff, many conflicting emotions pulsed through me. There were my own dreams of not only playing in the state championship but also, hopefully, one day winning it. At the same time I wondered how I would feel if I went to the state tournament this year and then again next year, while Michael, a friend, team captain and good golfer, never got the chance.
When the playoff started I tried to push all those questions out of my head. Michael and I both reached the green of the par-4 playoff hole in two. Michael had a 35-foot putt for birdie, which stopped four feet short. My 25-footer burned the right edge and stopped six inches behind the hole. I knew from experience that his four-footer felt like a 10-footer, and sure enough, he missed.
That was it. I had a six-inch tap-in to win. It couldn't be easier. But as I approached the ball, all the thoughts about him and my dreams were crashing around in my head. Those six inches opened my door into the state finals but also closed his. I took a breath and tried to clear my mind when it hit me: I'd rather see Michael get his chance than go there myself. I picked up my ball and conceded the playoff.
Since then, things have been crazy. I have been interviewed by newspapers and TV and asked to speak at Old Chatham Golf Club—where Dean Smith and Michael Jordan are members! Complete strangers come up to me and shake my hand.
Michael had a great time at the tournament, and I know he'll do well next year in the golf management program at Methodist University. Golf is a competitive game, but in the midst of it we have friendship and memories. I gave up a chance to go to the state tournament, but I know I made someone else happy, and that's all that matters.
SI GOLF RANKING
PLAYER (FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
Luke Donald (15)
GOLF MAGAZINE TOP 100 TEACHERS POLL
IS SERGIO GARCIA AN UNDERACHIEVER OR THE VICTIM OF UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS?
Unrealistic expectations 36%
JAMES K. COLTON (PRICE AND POPE)
PICK-UP ARTIST Price (right) conceded the playoff so Pope could play in the state finals.