A wee thought to supplement last week’s blog post…
There’s an important point I didn’t make explicit.
And David Beckham could tell you exactly what it is.
What am I talking about?
What does David Beckham have to do with why we golf?
There was a time when Beckham had the sporting world at his feet. Although an established player at Manchester United, his manager’s growing unease at the meteoric growth of Beckham’s off-field commercial interests made for a difficult relationship. After 6 months of innuendo, player and club revealed they were to part.
This surprised no-one. After all, it had been the front-runner for “Britain’s Worst-Kept Secret” of 2003.
What was more surprising was the club he chose. Real Madrid might have been the pre-eminent European club of that time, with a policy of signing mainly galácticos, the name they gave to globally famous players. This meant Beckham would increase his visibility and thus his earning potential, despite signing over a significant portion of his image rights.
There was just one problem.
The team he joined was ageing, disjointed and past their best. The non-galácticos resented their more famous team-mates’ for their astronomical wages and preferential treatment. The policy was failing, and Beckham was stuck.
And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t had options. Barcelona, Madrid’s great rivals, had been just as keen to get his signature. And, although the money wasn’t as good as what was offered by Madrid, it was still a huge sum. Barcelona were the up-and-coming side, the one which broke Madrid’s dominance of Europe.
But Beckham chose Madrid.
He didn’t have an easy time of it there. The manager changed, and the new incumbent didn’t rate Beckham as highly as his predecessor.And, although he won his coach over, it became clear joining Madrid had been a mistake as reality failed to live up to his hopes.
With his star on the wane, Beckham sought one last payday. He negotiated a contract to play in the US, becoming one of the highest-paid sportsmen of all time in the process. He planned to spend the twilight of his career cashing in.
Again, there was a problem.
Major League Soccer wasn’t of a sufficient standard to challenge him. Clean-living and fanatically fit, Beckham was able to compete at a far higher level than he’d first thought. Realising he’d made a terrible mistake, he sought to correct it. Usually a model professional, his acute awareness of the “ticking clock” counting down to the end of his career caused him to clash with the management of LA Galaxy.
Eventually a deal was arranged for Beckham to return to Europe on loan; although financial details of these negotiations were never made public, it’s reasonable to surmise he took a huge pay cut to do so. He made no secret of his desire to return on a permanent basis, but no club was willing to match LA Galaxy’s valuation. Eventually a “time-share” agreement was thrashed out with Beckham playing for both Galaxy and Milan. With his contract in Los Angeles now at an end, it seems likely he’ll try to return to Europe for the very end of his career – but this is little consolation for the opportunities he’s lost by making the decision to move to LA in the first place.
But what has this got do with your golf?
Quite a lot, as it happens.
Beckham made a crucial mistake, one which I can see him regretting for some time.
Beckham forgot why he played the game…and is paying the price in lost opportunities.
He made making money his primary focus, rather than the pursuit of sporting excellence. But, as a kid and into his teenage years, he thought of nothing more than mastering the sport. Ever wondered where his sublime free-kicks came from? He’d spent hours, man and boy, perfecting them. He’d hang a tire over the crossbar, and practice hitting hundreds of free kicks through the tire.
It’s easy to dismiss him as an intellectually limited footballer with the famous WAG on his arm. It’s so easy say he was greedy, and should’ve thought more.
But I don’t think so.
Beckham was and is a sportsman, first and foremost. Driven by his love for the game, he made mastery his focus. And he deserved to be rewarded. With all the hoopla surrounding his marriage and off-field activities, it’s easy to forget how good a player he was in his pomp – but he should eventually be remembered as one of Britain’s finest sportsmen.
What was his mistake?
He lost sight of the reason why he’d become great. Instead of seeking new challenges to overcome, it became about how much he could earn. As his Manchester United contemporaries Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes ended their careers with medals, Beckham is ending his in frustration and with a sense of under-achievement, despite a trophy cabinet many players would envy.
But what has this got to do with your golf?
Beckham’s troubles teach us a lesson which doesn’t just apply to football. It not even that it’s relevant to all sporting endeavours. This is a lesson for life.
Know what success means to you.
We’re all different…and our definitions of success are just as varied. For one golfer, it might be playing contained tactical golf, hitting fairways and greens. Another might take pleasure in paying as creatively as possible, dreaming of bending the ball at will. It might even mean that you don’t succeed in a conventional way – some players might realise they’re happiest at the range with a mountain of balls, and never set foot on a course again.
No-one else can define success for you.
Start paying attention to what it is that energises you when you play, what gives you that sense of pleasure so deep you even feel it in your calf muscles.
And then work out how you can structure your play and practice to get more of it.
If you don’t understand why you golf, then how can you make the right decisions?
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, or for a last-minute Christmas present for a golf buddy, might I suggest you check out Why We Golf? Written by Paul Staley, it’s a wry look at why we’re so in love with a game which at times doesn’t seem to love us back. Written in an easy-to-read conversational style, it’s nevertheless as clever as it is funny. As Paul’s a friend of mine, I was privileged to read an advance copy of the book, and I’m delighted to recommend it to you. His blog has posts taken from the book, so why not check it out and see for yourself?
(and in case you’re wondering, I make nothing from these links – I’m just delighted to point you in the direction of a great book written by a good guy. It is Christmas, after all!)
[Image Credit: "Why We Golf" is the cover image of Paul Staley's book of the same name; "Mend it...unlike Beckham" by chaouki and used under Creative Commons License]