CINCINNATI, OHIO | The first sign of things falling apart is when you stop hearing “please” and “thank you.” That’s a prelude to something bigger and darker and meaner. The Brits know it. That’s why the late Queen Elizabeth II remained a model of manners and decorum from the moment she made her first public address at age 14 in 1940, a radio speech to the frightened children of England during the height of The Blitz, until her passing on Thursday at the age of 96.
Societies thrive when there’s a collective sense of gratitude, when people understand that no time in history has mankind lived longer, been healthier, or had more stuff than the present, and that it can all go away in a second. Once that understanding disappears – and it vanishes faster than you think – you get a bunch of athletes so rich they’d make Louis XIV raise an eyebrow sniping at each other over who gets the next hundred million, while young adults with no outlets for their angst feel entitled to loot a Walgreens.
You see it. Everybody does. And if you’re like most, you feel helpless to slow down the global freefall back to blood and tribalism.
But there are glimpses of hope, occasional outlets of goodness that stand out like a warm, bright light in a ditch of treachery.
On Monday of this week, about 85 people, including more than a dozen LPGA Tour players, traveled to Woodstock, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta that is on the way to absolutely nowhere, for a surprise second birthday party for Grace Godfrey, the daughter of Jane Park and Pete Godfrey. For those who don’t remember, Grace suffered brain damage last summer from seizures brought on by a virus. Since then the golf community has rallied to help.
“But just seeing Jane smile and Pete smile was awesome, and getting to interact with Grace was phenomenal.” – Jessica Korda
A lot of players flew from Toledo to Atlanta, drove an hour from the airport to Woodstock, an hour back, and then returned to Ohio for the event this week in Cincinnati.
One of those was Jessica Korda, who said, “I haven’t seen Jane in such a long time, and obviously Grace has grown so much. She’s definitely the biggest 2-year-old I’ve ever seen.”
Pete, who caddies for Hye-Jin Choi, shot home late last Sunday and then jetted back to Cincinnati on Tuesday. When asked about the Godfrey family, Korda said, “The only thing that really defines them is resilience. The love and the support system they have around them is amazing. Literally from feeds to (changes), it’s just such a different life. But just seeing Jane smile and Pete smile was awesome, and getting to interact with Grace was phenomenal.
“We’re always trying to raise awareness about them and for them and just try to help them in any way possible. I think it’s the most important thing for her friends, for us.”
There are plenty of other glimpses of that gracious spirit this week. Citizens of Cincinnati have been so hellishly nice that it almost makes you feel inadequate. Without exaggeration, I have been thanked no fewer than 10 times a day for being here. At least twice, when I’ve responded with my standard, “Thank you for having us,” Ohioans have teared up.
“Cincinnati is a sports town, and people here are more loyal than you can imagine,” said Peter Chin, an executive with Procter & Gamble, the presenting sponsor. “Whether it’s the Bengals, no matter how good or bad they are, or the Reds, even through controversy, they support their teams and their city. There’s a sense of community here.
“Since the day the LPGA announced that this event was coming, the city has been on board.”
That doesn’t seem to be an exaggeration. Restaurant operators miles away from Kenwood Country Club said things like, “Oh, you’re here for the golf? Nice to have you.”
Players have been equally gracious to the club and city. And if you have any doubts about the next generation’s ability to preserve polite society, you only have to look at the youngest player in the Kroger Queen City field, a 14-year-old named Gianna Clemente who made a little history early in the week by becoming only the second player to ever Monday qualify into three consecutive events – the CP Women’s Open, the Dana Open and now the Kroger. The other player to do it was Hee-Won Han way back in 2001. At the time, Han was 23. Clemente turned 14 in March.
When her father delivered her to the media center at Kenwood for an interview, Clemente thanked everyone for their time and attention. Then she said, “I’m just really happy and honored to have this opportunity. It’s kind of crazy. I woke up this morning and was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to another LPGA event today.’ It was kind of crazy this morning thinking about the last three weeks and the qualifiers.
“We were trying to get the lay of the land a little bit and get to know some people who could help us with exemptions in the future. Dad sent out some e-mails. Not all of them responded. But even the Monday qualifier exemptions we were happy with because I’d never done that before.
“My dad said, ‘I think you’re going to get into two.’ I ended up getting into three. They just happened to be back-to-back-to-back.
“The biggest surprise for me (playing these LPGA events) is how casual it is out here, especially in the practice rounds,” Clemente said. “Everybody just does their own thing. Some people pay attention to me because I’m kind of young for this. But I was expecting it to be, not necessarily strict, although that’s the best word I can use, but maybe more formal. In the end, it’s just people out playing golf.
“I’m just thankful, really,” Clemente said. “That’s the best word for it.”
It wasn’t 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth telling the children of London, “We know, every one of us, that all will be well, for God will comfort us and give us victory and peace,” but as gracious and inspiring words from a youngster in golf go, Clemente wasn’t bad.
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