In golf, competitors can also be friends, even at the Masters


Tiger Woods, right, got some putting advice from Steve Stricker, left, and then beat him in a tournament last month. Stricker said he is pleased that Woods is playing well. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)

The Masters golf tournament begins today in Augusta, Georgia. Sports fans are wondering whether Tiger Woods will win his 15th major title there.

Woods has a good chance because he is playing very well. He has already won three tournaments this year and has regained his ranking as the Number 1 golfer in the world.

Here’s one reason Woods is playing so well: Last month, fellow golfer Steve Stricker gave Woods some putting tips at the Cadillac Championship. Woods won, beating Stricker by two strokes. Woods has been on a roll ever since.

This brings up an interesting question: Should Stricker have helped Woods? After all, aren’t they playing against each other? It’s like one of the Washington Nationals giving batting tips to a player for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Golf is different from most other sports. A golfer usually does not play against a single opponent; a pro tournament can have more than 150 players. In addition, golfers usually do not have teammates. They play for themselves against the entire field, and the one with the lowest score wins. In some sense, golfers compete against the golf course.

Golfers also are playing against the temptation we all have to forget our good habits. The slightest change in a swing or putting stroke can make a big difference — and often it’s not a positive difference.

Finally, there’s no defense in golf. A golfer can’t do anything to stop competitors from playing well. Each one shoots the best he can and hopes that’s good enough to win.

Jack Nicklaus was probably the greatest golfer ever. He won a record 18 major professional titles. (The four major tournaments are the Masters, the United States Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.) Nicklaus also came in second in 19 other majors. Nicklaus played great, but someone played a little better.

I think it’s terrific that Stricker helped Woods with his putting. By all accounts, Stricker is one of the nice guys in sports. Last year, he won the Payne Stewart Award, given to a golfer who respects the game’s traditions and supports charities.

Too many athletes, from pros to kids, play as if they are trying to destroy or embarrass their opponents. Stricker understands that, in sports, your opponent is not your enemy. As he said after the Cadillac tournament, “[Tiger]’s a good friend. We talk a lot about putting. It’s good to see him playing well.”

So this week I know that lots of golf fans will be rooting for Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy to win the Masters. I’ll be rooting for Steve Stricker.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids that combine sports fiction and sports history. His latest book is “Perfect Game.”

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