(photo credit Bluegrass Sports Nation)
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — Other than World War III, this current global pandemic has to be the most significant challenge we’ll face in our lifetimes. Nothing can rival the isolation, the destruction, and the fear generated by an invisible pathogen that has killed our economy, our loved ones, and our sense of security all in one fell swoop.
Many have said that the sporting world is a microcosm of society. If that’s true, then rest assured that us die-hard sports fans are suffering through the exact same voids of discouragement and despair as the rest of the planet. COVID-19 has entered our lives like a thief in the night and robbed us of everything that we hold dear. March Madness, The Masters, and Keeneland—all gone in the blink of an eye.
As bad as it for those of us watching from the peanut gallery, imagine the anxiety of those actually in the arena. I’m not talking about the megastars of major sports like the NBA or MLB. Those guys won’t miss a beat. I’m talking about those in the trenches—the grinders who have busted tail to get where they are, only to see their hopes and dreams curtailed by an unseen enemy.
I’m talking about somebody like Chip McDaniel. The former University of Kentucky golfer was embarking on a young professional career that was headed into the stratosphere. The 24-year-old hometown hero from Manchester had turned pro in 2018, immediately made the cut in his first professional tournament at the Barbasol Championships, and then quickly followed that up with his first pro tournament win at the Governor’s Open.
If that weren’t impressive enough, McDaniel went on to finish 1st in sectional qualifying for the 2019 US Open, made the cut at Pebble Beach, and ended up finishing 78th amongst the best golfers in the world. Surviving the rigors of Q-School finals in December, McDaniel had just finished up the first six tournaments on the Korn Ferry Tour when his golfing world imploded.
“It just came to a stop,” Chip told me on a phone interview the other day. “I went from hardly being home to being home basically 24/7—which was nice for two weeks. And then it kind of set in that it wasn’t just a short break. It was definitely an adjustment for most golfers I would say.”
An adjustment is a definite understatement. Were I in Chip’s shoes, I’d be going ballistic—throwing thunderbolts of anger and loathing at the golfing gods who brought this on. To have worked so hard to get to where I’ve gotten in life, only to see everything potentially vaporized by a bat out of China would send me into bouts of depression and self-pity. Damn you, Coronavirus would be my mantra of the day.
If you know Chip, however—or the entire McDaniel clan for that matter—you know that would never be the case with him. In fact, dejection and despondency about his career was the farthest thing from his mind.
“What’s been the hardest part for me is being at home and not being able to see the people that I normally don’t get to see because I’m traveling all the time,” Chip explained. “Now it’s like I’m stuck at home, but I still can’t see them because my parents are a little paranoid that I’ll be a carrier and give it to my grandparents.”
So, what has he been doing with all this extra social distancing time? Thankfully, many of the golf courses are still open, and Chip is able to get out of his house consistently to improve his game. He’s been working diligently to get his body in better shape, to sharpen his faith, and to keep a positive attitude.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Chip explained. “I feel that this is almost so crazy that the whole country—the whole world—is on pause basically. From a career standpoint, it’s probably a better situation for me than with an injury. I think once everything goes back to normal, it’ll almost be like a restart button. I feel like that’s the only way I can think about it and just try to prepare myself for that moment that it does start to go back to normal.”
And therein lies one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from anyone on how we should be dealing with this unwelcome interruption in our lives. Whether uber-talented professional golfer or below-average fledgling sportswriter, Chip McDaniel and I have a common Coronavirus goal. We’re both striving to emerge from this pandemic better than when we went in.
“Continue to stick to yourself,” Chip reminded me. “And try to focus on something to make yourself better when you go out. That way you distract yourself from what’s going on. And then when it’s over and everything is back to normal, you’ll be a little bit better than when it started.”
Wise words, indeed. If everyone heeds that sage advice, then we really have nothing to fear. Because if we’re all just a tiny bit better than we were before, then the world will undoubtedly be a more joyful place for everyone.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at Nolangroupmedia.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.