Rally caps and what ifs

I recently wrote a post on avoiding celebrating at halftime as the game is not over. Too many politicians want to spike the ball celebrating success, when it has not yet happened. To illustrate my point, I used several games where premature celebration proved unwise. This got me thinking about some other premature celebrations in the sporting world to illustrate a few life lessons about thinking you won before you did or overcoming an obstacle to win..

Baseball has a fun tradition of camaraderie for a team that is woefully behind its opponent late in the game called “Rally Caps.” The magnitude of the deficit will dictate how early rally caps are deployed. The losing team will invert their ball caps and wear them backward in the dugout as they root their teammates on. While baseball is a team game, a key part is based on one individual batting against a pitcher. If a batter gets a hit, the next batter starts to think he or she can too. And, momentum can build.

The Boston Red Sox baseball team has participated in two such rallies in World Series games, losing one and winning one. They lost a lead in game six (out of a potential seven) of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, sadly with the game ending on a key mistake by one of its better players. Eleven years before, the Red Sox rallied in another game six against the Cincinnati Reds trailing 6 to 0, winning on a big home run in the eleventh inning. For non-baseball fans, the retelling of this story by Robin Williams to Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” was a pivotal moment of the movie.

In golf, Arnold Palmer succeeded and failed in two separate US Opens, one of the four major championships. In 1960, he was seven shots behind the leader, when he was asking a sports writer what he needed to shoot in the last round to come back and win. The sports writer told him he had zero chance of winning and laughed. Palmer proceeded to shoot a seven under 65 and win the tournament. Six years later, Palmer had a seven shot lead in the US Open in the final round. He continued to play aggressively while Billy Casper, the best golfer few have heard of, started making putts. Casper would go on to win in a play off.

In basketball, Coach Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels was famous for come from behind wins. One in particular stood out as his team trailed a Florida State Seminoles basketball team by twenty plus points in the second half. Since basketball is a game of momentum, Smith’s team starting playing more aggressively and in short order had halved the lead. Then, Smith called an unusual time out which the announcers questioned. Smith later said he wanted the other team to think more about what was happening. The Tar Heels went on to win easily.

Sports give us many examples of why early celebration is unwise. The above illustrate what can happen when teams or individuals that are ahead start thinking of winning and less of doing what it takes to get there. It also shows how a determined opponent can overcome obstacles. And, it shows how a person or team who think they can win, can build its momentum from a small crack of success.

Let me end with one more story which is telling based on the mental aspects of the game. In golf’s British Open (or The Open as it is called there), Frenchman Jean Van de Velde will go down as the golfer more people anguished over than any other. He walked to the last hole of the tournament with a three shot lead at Carnoustie in 1999. He needed to shoot only a double bogey six to win.

The tragic man made a series of poor club and shot selections that painfully unfolded on live TV coverage and he lost the tournament to Paul Lawrie who started the day ten shots behind the leader and behind many others. Yet, the story does not end with Van de Velde. Colin Montgomerie started the day tied with Lawrie, ten shots back. When asked, Montgomerie told a reporter he had no chance of winning, a self-defeating prediction. The man he was tied with came back and won.

If you think you can, you just might. If you think you cannot, you won’t. As for our dear Mr. Van de Velde, this is one of the few times a caddy should have not given the player the club he asked for. The player needed an intervention to stop the negative thought patterns. Like Palmer before him in 1966, he started to think about what losing a big lead would look like.*

*Note: A friend who went to Stanford was following Palmer that day in San Francisco in 1966. He recalls standing behind Palmer when he was seven shots ahead while Palmer’s ball was in the very deep rough. Palmer pulled out a driver to try to advance the ball to the green and my friend and the crowd groaned. The ball went four feet and Palmer never mentally recovered. He needed his caddy to do what Van de Velde’s should have done and handed him a different club.

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Hillary should have heeded Arnold Palmer’s Example

Today, unless thirty-seven electoral college members decide not to vote for the President-elect, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. We will likely never know officially the extent of the influence of the Russian hacking on the election results, but it had to have some impact at least in my opinion. But, to me there was a key failure by the Democrat candidate that should be noted –¬†Hillary Clinton¬†wanted to win big and took her precious time away from where it was needed most and tried to run up the score.

Arnold Palmer, who passed away this year, could have told her not to follow his example back in 1966, when he was well-positioned to win his second US Open and eighth major golf championship. Palmer is remembered as one of the greatest golfers in history, but also for his go-for-broke style. Because of this style, while he won often, he also fell short when playing it smart would have been the better course of action.

In 1966, at the Olympic golf course in San Francisco, Palmer came to the back nine of the final day of the US Open with a seven shot lead. That number is correct. Standing on the tee, he decided to go for a record victory and continued to go-for-broke. Now, if you do not follow golf, note that rough off the fairway is grown higher than normal for the US Open, so it is very unforgiving if your ball misses the shorter fairway grass. I have actually played this course and can attest it is not an easy one to play, but even more difficult from the rough.

So, Palmer’s swashbuckling style caused him to bleed strokes off his lead at the same time one of the most underrated players ever, Billy Casper started making a few birdies. By the end of the nine holes, Palmer had lost all of his lead and ended the day tied with Casper. The next day Casper was able to be beat Palmer in a playoff denying the latter another crowning achievement.

Why do I bring this up? Clinton decided she had a slim chance to win Arizona and decided to spend more time there than she should have. Where she should have spent her time was in states she should have won, but lost – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She did not visit Wisconsin at all after the convention, while many snickered at Trump going there. Flying to Arizona is a long flight, so she lost at least a day each time she went, a day that could have been invested in states nearer to each other.

Truth be told, she had a good story to tell for helping the middle class get jobs, a well thought at plan which included investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy industries which are growing at a fast pace. But, she was not there to tell it. So, she gave the mike to Trump, who knows what to do in front of people wanting to be told what they want to hear.

People talk about what a flawed candidate she was and is, but she still won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. She just did not have enough of those votes in states where it mattered to the electoral college. I feel that she could have run a better campaign from the get go. I realize it is easy to say that now, but many said that before the election was long over. The drip-drip-drip of the constant email leaks did not help her at all, as it distracted us from issues and her opponents spotty business record and poor treatment of others along the way. Yet, half of success is showing up and she missed a few places to tell her story.

I am also quite perturbed by those who on November 9th saw that not voting at all and voting for a third-party candidate did a disservice to her efforts to give us some rational governance. Jill Stein’s voters wanted clean energy, so by voting for her instead of a candidate who could have moved us further down the path, we will have a new President whose cabinet is filled with fossil fuel protagonists. As I have said before, if you did not vote or voted for someone else, your voice is less compelling to complain about Trump winning.

So, unless something significant happens in the next 24 hours, we will have a President who will scare the hell out of most of the citizens on our planet and in our country. I hope he does some good, because I anticipate many things that will lead us down the wrong paths. Arnie could have told you Hillary – you should have played it smart.