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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Not Front Page News? Some Thoughts on Ben Martin, Shanshan Feng & Laetitia Beck

Ben Martin's putting clinic at Shriners Hospital fort
Children-Greenville, SC.  Photo credit: Scott Chancey,
Greenwood Index-Journal.
As November has segued into December and 2014 begins its rollover into 2015, we've been bombarded with a wave of devastating and horrifying media images ranging from videotaped beheadings to mass protests difficult to distinguish from the freedom marches of the 1960s to the wholesale destruction of Syria, town-by-town, to the slaughter of a school full of children and their teachers in Pakistan.

The 24-hour news cycle has made it possible to follow, almost shot-by-shot, the search for a crazed cop-killer in Pennsylvania and the attempt to liberate a cafe packed with terrified customers being held hostage in Sydney by a crazed jihadi, or was he?

Have I omitted something?  Probably.  It's been almost too much to absorb.  Am I getting desensitized to mass violence?   Or am I, in the golf season interregnum, just more attuned to the 24-hour news cycle blood and guts filler?

Let's get back to golf, the sport with a social conscience, played by folks at all levels who have the capacity to forge bonds and partnerships, friendships and economic alliances that transcend the divisions of race, religion, and political ideology.

To achieve that refocus, allow me to share with you three of my current favorite golf cameos:

In October hometown boy Ben Martin won the Shriners Hospital for Children Open.  It was a big win for Martin  He locked in his first career PGA Tour victory with a 46 foot eagle putt on the 16th hole and collected a million dollars and change, a nice pre-Christmas paycheck, as well as a lovely trophy!  And the Shriner's Hospital win secured Martin's tee time at the 2015 Masters.

Then what did Martin do?  He took his trophy and went visiting, at the Shriners Hospital for Children-Greenville, SC.  He passed the precious trophy around, visited with the kids, and gave a putting clinic.  I'll bet my usual dollar that fewer news hounds even know about Ben Martin's visit with those children in Greenville, South Carolina than they know about that mob of Taliban who slaughtered those 145 children and their teachers in Pakistan this week, and for most of my readers Martin's activities took place considerably closer to home.

Shanshan Feng.
Photo credit:
Then there's China's first international golf celebrity, Shanshan Feng, the 5th ranked woman golfer in the world, who claimed her second victory of the 2014 season at the Ladies European Tour Dubai Ladies Masters at the Emirates Golf Club.  Feng's other win this year came at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.  I rather enjoy the cultural mix and gender juxtaposition Shanshan Feng represents -- a Chinese golfer collecting victories in Malaysia and Dubai -- and I take sublime delight in the fact that the game of golf provided the platform for both the mix and the juxtaposition.

What's Feng doing with her celebrity?  She takes it seriously.  She's mentoring young Chinese golfers into the pro ranks -- no doubt she'll be bringing along one of the 2015 rookies, Simin Feng.   She's working hand-in-glove with Chinese officials to secure a spot for recreational golf in China global marketplace.  She's taking the lead in expanding the cultural opportunities for Chinese women.  I really delight in this image of Shanshan swinging her driver -- China's marketing women's athletic achievements!

Laetitia Beck at the 2014 RICOH
Women's British Open
I'm also very engaged by Laetitia Beck, the young Israeli golfer who just earned her 2015 LPGA Tour card.  It's a first for the LPGA, a first for Israel, and a first for Beck, whose family emigrated from Belgium to Israel when Beck was a child.  What other competitive sport not only accommodates but actually welcomes the cultural diversity Laetitia Beck's presence represents as she prepares to begin her first year on the Tour?

Beck learned the game on Israel's only 18-hole course, took to the game and, in search of a higher level of competition, attended high school in the United States at the IMG Pendleton Academy in Bradenton, Florida and then Duke, where she played on the Blue Devils golf team.  Beck made her pro debut at the 2014 RICOH Women's British open.

I'll be following Laetitia Beck closely this year.  She intrigues me, this young women who's going to be carrying a big burden into her professional golf career.  She is an observant Jew and all that implies.  She's been able to defer her mandatory four-year military service obligation in order to complete her Duke education and has again sought an extension of that deferment, perhaps until the conclusion of her professional career.  She feels deeply the responsibility of representing her very troubled and very challenged homeland on golf's world stage.  Will Beck, in the long run, have a greater impact on the world around her than her ISIS counterparts?  It's a question worth asking?

If players like Ben Martin, Shanshan Feng and Laetitia Beck are representative, and I believe they are, I don't think it would be an understatement to claim that the game of golf has the potential to serve as the training ground for a new form of global citizenship, one that values personal integrity, social responsibility, national loyalty, and competition grounded in merit rather than in might.  And why this isn't front page news in the 24-hour cycle?