Integrity Is Not A Sometimes Thing

Today is Tuesday, so this post is on positive personal impact.

Recently, I’ve been posting about the importance of integrity as a cornerstone of your personal brand.  Over the weekend, we all (at least those of us who are interested in golf) got to see a young man who personified integrity.

Michael Thompson is a senior at The University of Alabama.  He is also a good golfer – good enough to get invited to compete in The Masters as an amateur.  If you’re not familiar with golf, The Masters is one of golf’s four major tournaments.  Many think that it is the premier golf tournament in the world. 

Big golf tournaments are contested over a four day period.  There is a cut after the first two rounds.  For Mr. Thompson, making the cut as an amateur would have been a huge accomplishment.  He was putting for a birdie on the 15th hole.  If he sank that putt, he would have stood and excellent chance of making the cut.  However, as he placed his putter on the ground for the birdie try, he noticed that the ball moved slightly, probably because of a puff of wind.

Mr. Thompson had “grounded” his club – meaning, he put in on the ground in preparation to strike the ball.  Once a player grounds his club and the ball moves – whether or not he hits it, he is assessed a one-stroke penalty.   Mr. Thompson stopped play and called for an official.  He told the official that the ball moved after he grounded his club.  He was the only one who saw the ball move.  He didn’t have to call the official and penalize himself.  But he did.  The integrity of golf meant more to him than making the cut at The Masters.

I caddied at Allegheny Country Club near Pittsburgh when I was a young guy.  Caddying is a great job for a youngster.  I made reasonable money, and I won a Caddy Scholarship from the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association that helped a lot with my expenses at Penn State. 

I also learned a lot by watching how the members of the club conducted themselves.  I got to observe people who were living the kind of life to which I aspired.  I never did take up golf – I was always better at sports where you run into people and knock them down – but I got a real appreciation for the game and its traditions.

I was proud to see how Mr. Thompson conducted himself at The Masters.  So was Golfweek.  Here is an excerpt from an on line article published over the weekend.

“The spirit of Bobby Jones (a great amateur golfer and the founder of The Masters) showed up at Augusta National on Friday.  Jones floated out of that great clubhouse in the sky and settled on the par-5, 15th hole. Standing on the green of that hole was 22-year-old amateur Michael Thompson, and inside his athletic body was the spirit of the inimitable Bobby Jones.

“Thompson, a senior at the University of Alabama, stood facing a birdie putt that would take him to 3-over-par for the tournament, and safely into the weekend if he could maintain his position over the final three holes.

“Thompson took a couple of practice strokes, settled his feet into position and then placed the putter behind the ball.  Gravity and Augusta’s slick greens suddenly took over. Thompson’s ball moved a fraction of an inch closer to the hole.

“That’s when Jones, the creator of Augusta National, arrived from the heavens.

“Thompson called to a rules official and turned himself in as soon as the ball moved.  Under the Rules of Golf, Rule 18-2, Thompson had no option but to replace the ball and add a one-stroke penalty to his card.

“He missed the subsequent putt. Instead of a birdie four he walked off with a bogey six, and lost his chance of becoming the low amateur in the Masters.  Thompson also bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes to finish at 7-over-par to miss the cut by three shots.

“There is every chance Thompson’s crime would have gone unnoticed had he kept quiet. However, that is not in his DNA. He did the honorable thing, the same thing 99.9 percent of golfers would do in the same situation.

“‘I did ground my club,’ Thompson said. ‘I think the ball was in the process of moving as I put my club down.  I didn’t strike it, but it moved after I grounded my club.  There was nothing I  could do but call the official.  That’s the person I am. I’m very honest and trustworthy. I don’t want to cheat.’

“Jones once famously called a penalty on himself. When lauded for his action, he uttered the memorable remark: ‘You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.’  Only Jones knew he had caused the ball to move. There were no close up shots in his day, hardly any television cameras, so Jones could have blithely gone about his business without anyone knowing.  He didn’t. He called the penalty on himself and set a precedent for golfers everywhere.

“Michael Thompson didn’t know about the Bobby Jones incident. He’s too young. Mind you, it didn’t matter — there was no danger of Thomson overriding the rules of golf.  ‘That just shows the integrity of the man, and that’s why I’m proud to be his coach,’ said Jay Seawell, University of Alabama head coach.  ‘It’s a big deal for a young man to do that. There are many things in his life that will show us our integrity, and that’s one of the things that will make him special.’

“Playing companion Ben Crenshaw has seen much in his long career. What Thompson did impressed the two-time Masters Champion.  ‘He handled himself beautifully. I was hoping he hadn’t grounded his club, and I asked him if he did and he said yes. You should not dismiss lightly what he did.’

“And Jones? Crenshaw knows the history of the royal and ancient game better than most players. The Texan had no doubt what Jones would be doing in that great clubhouse in the sky.  ‘He’s got a nice warm smile on his face right now,’ Crenshaw said.”

Michael Thompson missed the cut at this year’ Masters.  However, he earned himself a place in golf history, and he did a lot to build his personal brand as a person of integrity.

The common sense point here is clear.  A strong personal brand is an important key to creating positive personal impact and to building a successful life and career.  All good brands are built on integrity.   As Michael Thompson demonstrated at the 2008 Masters, integrity is something you practice all the time – not when it suits you — no matter what the short term consequences.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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