Don’t throw away your reputation when things don’t go your way

When Tour member Rhein Gibson threw his putter cover at his caddie the other day, I immediately thought of Lefty.

Not Phil Mickelson, the most famous Lefty on the PGA Tour. My mind went right back to the 16th green at the course where I caddied as a teenager, and the time Lefty – the best player in the club but also by far the most temperamental – accidentally hit the ball with the edge of his blade as he was taking a practice stroke on a crucial putt.

He had one of the old Acushnet Bulls Eye Putters, with the narrow blade and pointy end. That made it perfect for jamming in the turf next to the green, which Lefty promptly did. I was so thankful he wasn’t “my guy” that day. It would be up to someone else to extricate the putter.

But there were plenty of other times when I did caddy for Lefty, and I found him to be fascinating. He practically seethed his way around the golf course, rarely smiling and offering only a satisfied grunt when he hit a great shot – which he often did. His normal score was in the vicinity of par.

He didn’t talk much to his caddie, but none of us minded: He regularly paid us $10, no matter whether he won his match or lost, when most members wouldn’t go higher than $7 even if they won a couple hundred dollars. I’d imagine the stakes are quite a bit higher now … and caddies certainly make a lot more than that now, too, thank goodness.

However, there was one thing you quickly learned when you were caddying in Lefty’s group: You had to be on your toes when he hit a bad shot. A putter cover? Ha! How about a 3-iron rapidly heading in your direction? “You should have seen what Lefty did today!” often was heard in the caddyshack, and they weren’t referring to the great shots he hit. His bag typically had fewer than 14 clubs because at least one had been broken.

But here’s the best thing that typically happens after an outburst on the golf course:

Rhein Gibson later apologized.

Just as Lefty used to do.

Doesn’t it always seem that way? While bad behavior in other sports often is followed by justifications (“He had it coming!”) and further threats (“We’ll see what happens next time!”), golf usually elicits a different response.

When the average golfer has a little time to cool off and think about it, there’s an apology to other members of the group and a promise not to do it again. Even if they know it probably won’t be the last time they see that sort of thing from the hothead, at least there’s an attempt at civility.

And I would venture to say that every golfer who loses it out there has at least a modicum of regret, at least in the back of their mind. They might not be able to bring themselves to an apology, but they go home wishing it hadn’t happened – and looking forward to their next round, no matter how bad this one was. They think it will be different next time.

I know, I know – not EVERYONE is like that. I, too, have come across a few incorrigibles who were best avoided on the golf course. But not many. Really, hardly any.

So the next time you feel yourself starting to lose your temper, think about how you want to feel as you leave the course. You don’t go there to be angry – at least I hope not – so resolve that you’re going to treasure the experience, even if you play poorly.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a caddy, treat them with respect, too. They’re just trying to make a living.

What Gibson’s caddie did was pretty dumb – he picked up Gibson’s ball in a hazard before the player had taken a drop on the 18th hole, costing him a one-stroke penalty and $12,000 in prize money.

Did Gibson have a right to be upset? Of course.

Did he have justification for firing the caddie? Absolutely.

But throwing something – anything – at him? Just dumb. And also grounds for an apology later.

As I was writing this, I decided to see if I could find out anything about Lefty. I learned that he died 10 years ago. I learned a little more about his life and his family. And, sure enough, the obituary was careful to mention that he regularly was the club champion.

It didn’t make any mention of his temper, of course, but Rhein Gibson won’t have the same luxury. If he graduates to the PGA Tour, what happened the other day will follow him around. He’ll always be the guy who once threw a putter cover at a caddie. You can bet that caddies will think twice about wanting to work for him.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to throw a club. Do you want to be remembered for that, or do you want to be known for the way you play our great game? And I don’t just mean how you hit the ball.

Reputations are built when people see patterns of behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes only one incident to make them think there’s a pattern. Show them a pattern of camaraderie and laughter instead. Stick your putter in the ground, and you might be burying your reputation along with it.


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