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In a class of his own

The final round of the recent Open Golf Championship at Royal Birkdale in England produced one of the most enthralling acts of sporting drama. The eventual winner, Jordan Spieth, led by three shots at the start of the round and everyone thought it would be an easy stroll to victory. However, he had a nightmare start to his round and was soon level with his playing partner, Matt Kuchar. The nightmare worsened at the 13th hole when he hit a desperately wild drive that strayed over a hundred metres from the fairway into thick rough — incredibly he turned what could so easily have been a three shot deficit to his opponent into only a one-shot deficit. This might have been enough to break any competitor, such was the pressure, yet in an extraordinary response after this emotionally-draining and physically-taxing hole, Spieth went on to score birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie in the next four holes before having the easy task of parring the final hole to win by three shots.

By Tim Middleton

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth

On being presented with the trophy, Spieth turned to Kuchar and publicly declared: “What a great champion Matt is and a class act.” That was interesting as Kuchar was not the Open Champion (Spieth was) but Spieth recognised the qualities of a champion in his rival (thereby reinforcing his own champion qualities). He identified Kuchar’s play as being “a class act”, even though he had not won, while thus underlining how much of a class act he himself was. They were both “a class act” and had champion qualities more by the way they handled their particular circumstance (winning and losing) as well as by their actual golfing performance.

Spieth’s performance was also a class act in the way he responded to pressure and to his poor form over the first 13 holes of the round. He was playing poorly (by his standards) and success was slipping away from him. A popular cliché when it comes to sport comes to mind: “Form is temporary but class is permanent” and that perhaps was never more evident in those four hours. Spieth did not lose his class but simply, temporarily, lost his form. The implication in such a statement is that performances will improve again. Real class will rise to the top again. Such an expression would better apply to Roger Federer than the one used in a previous article where it was suggested he was in the form of his life; he never lost his class when he was not winning tournaments but he simply suffered a setback in his form.

People like Spieth and Federer are a class act more because of the way they handle situations than on account of their achievements. They are a class act because they show dignity and humility in victory and defeat, integrity and sensitivity in all their efforts; they remain calm and unruffled, fair and gracious. In the 2012 Open Golf Championship Ernie Els won (amazingly at the age of 42) but in receiving the trophy he also did not celebrate his own achievement but paid credit to the runner-up, Adam Scott, who had led for most of the tournament but who had suffered a poor finish and was naturally desperately distraught.

When it comes to our children, we need to be concerned about the permanent, not the temporary. We need to be concerned about developing class, not form. When we say people are “a class act” we are saying they are top quality people, in the same way that we might refer to them as being “in a class of his own”. If a child at school is said to be “in a class of his own”, we might think it unfair, embarrassing, humiliating, as it may suggest he is excluded from being with others, and is marginalised, disgraced, inferior, almost like a leper was in the old days. However, we should take it as a compliment, as saying we are seeking to offer him a personalised approach and as saying he is unique with his specific differences; we do not wish to lump him together with others but rather, wish to identify him individually. We are all, in fact, in a class of our own; we all have to learn to handle our own particular situations on our own, be they extreme pressure or loss of form.

Our child may play well today but what really matters is whether he can maintain it: “Form is temporary but class is permanent”. The test of a child’s ability will be seen over a period of time, not in a one-off, flash-in-the-pan performance. The real test of his class will be seen in how he handles extreme situations, especially with regard to those around him. Spieth was in a class of his own but so too was Kuchar — will our child be? That is the key open question.

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.

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