From Golf Digest: Sergio Garcia, and the triumph of a growth mindset

For years, Sergio Garcia fit the description of a fixed mindset almost perfectly. Garcia was supremely talented, and when he won often as a young golfer, it portended well for his future. He was too good not to win. But when Garcia lost, as one inevitably does in professional golf, frustration mounted. Garcia blamed outside circumstances. He grew increasingly sullen. As famously captured in a rant after the 2012 Masters, he started to wonder if he really was as good as originally thought. “I'm not good enough ... I don't have the thing I need to have,” Garcia told Spanish reporters. “In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”

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Pictures on a wall: Jules Alexander's indelible gift

My wife and I have long disagreed about pictures on the wall. It's not that she’s opposed to them, or even that we’re far apart on personal tastes. But when it comes to design flourishes, Lisa prefers to tread cautiously while I'm given to impulse. Admittedly I haven't helped my case by repeatedly hammering new holes in the wall, hanging a new picture, only to discover that it's A) not the correct height, or B) completely crooked. The remnants of these poor decisions are pockmarked throughout our house, certain walls looking like we've come under attack by snipers.

And so now whenever I come home with a new picture to hang, Lisa prefers to discuss it at great length, perhaps bring in an outside consultant, then mull it over for several months before we ratify a decision. I mention all this because the only pictures that required no discussion at all were the ones taken by Jules Alexander.

Photo courtesy of the Alexander family

Photo courtesy of the Alexander family

I had known Jules for several years by the time he offered to photograph our boys. I had covered golf in the area, and had written a fair amount about his two golf pro sons Paul and Carl, and in addition to being a legend, Jules was the type of guy who you fell into conversation with easily. In 2008, not long after I had written a profile of him for The Met Golfer magazine, Jules kept suggesting I bring Charlie and Will over for him to photograph. In my typically neurotic way, I was uneasy with this invitation because of how it might be perceived: here I had written this fairly glowing story about a famous photographer, and to return the favor, the photographer would now shoot my two boys for free.

Alexander's classic of Ben Hogan at Winged Foot, 1959

Alexander's classic of Ben Hogan at Winged Foot, 1959

Of course Jules didn't see it this way. He had a unique gift he wanted to share, and he considered me a friend, so to not let him photograph my family would be a breach of some social contract. We agreed to meet at his house one afternoon in June.

At this point Charlie was three and Will was not yet six months. To think back about that afternoon is to revisit the early frenetic days of parenting. We probably had to wait for Will to wake up from his nap, and had only a narrow window before they needed to be fed. When our kids were young, we were guilty of thinking our world hung in some delicate balance, and one small disruption could knock the whole thing into disarray.

What I remember about the shoot is how simple it was, how Jules led us onto his back lawn, made a couple of silly faces at the boys, and started snapping. At no point did I think, Wow, this is going to be an amazing photo. It was all pretty quick, and I don’t remember Jules needing to say much.

I've thought a lot about what makes great photography, as someone who admittedly doesn't know much about it. With a dozen or so Instagram filters at my disposal, it’s easy for even me to produce a pretty picture now and then. But what separates a master like Jules is an ability to see something the rest of us miss. It was there in those photos of Hogan that have defined his career. And it was in the pictures he took of my boys: the light, the clarity, the expressions he managed to draw out of them even in that brief visit that were quintessentially them. Of course I say all this from the highly subjective perspective of a father looking at his kids. But even the people who visit our home for the first time and don’t even know Charlie and Will end up being drawn to the photos of them hanging in our kitchen.

We used to have only two of those pictures, symmetrically hanging side by side in our dining room. But as years passed and I'd see Jules every now and then, he kept insisting that I bring the boys back for an updated portrait. Of course I wanted to take him up on it, but I still felt like I was imposing. And besides, life is just busy -- school and work, summer camp and hockey games. It’s sad to say now, but Let’s go have our picture taken by a world-famous photographer was an elusive thought.

Then one day last summer, Charlie, Will and I went to play golf. We were meeting a friend at Westchester Country Club’s Par 3 course when we saw Jules lingering behind the 10th tee, a camera hanging from his neck. Delighted by the surprise, he told us the camera was an antique film kind, and he was looking for the right opportunity to test it. Even approaching 90, it was apparent Jules' passion for his craft hadn’t waned. He directed us to a bench, offered only a few short directions, and then went to work. He was done within minutes, and a few days later, he called our house telling me to come pick up the prints.

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Now there are three prints hanging over our kitchen table, all featuring Jules’ elegant signature in the bottom right-hand corner. I’ll likely never own a work of valuable art, unless you count the three indelible pictures from a legend. When it came time to place them on the wall, Lisa knew even my clumsy hand would have a hard time screwing it up.

The Olympics, Hope Solo, and a lesson in how not to lose

There are so many opportunities to talk about losing in the Olympics that it almost doesn't feel fair. It's like one big losing festival, only with corporate sponsors and an athlete's village where they apparently hand out condoms by the fistful. Every night presents a different worthwhile case study, and I'm just talking about prime time coverage: If I got into all the obscure sports aired on CNBC and Univision and whatever's streaming online, I would have to hire a team of interns.

But that's what makes the Olympics so riveting. It's so big, and so . . . significant. Probably the most compelling image of the Games so far is that photo of Usain Bolt cruising to a win in the 100 meter semifinals and flashing a devilish smile.

I love that picture. How could you not? It's the perfect embodiment of Bolt's singular charisma, and his ability to own a moment when the stakes are highest. I suspect that picture will hold up over time as one of the all-time greats in Olympic history. But to me, the essence of the Olympics is more this:

That’s Wilhem Belocian, the French hurdler who false started in the 400 meters and was immediately disqualified. It was Belocian’s first Olympic race, and he literally never made it past the opening gun. That’s it. Four years of training reduced to a twitchy start and a bawling heap on the ground. As Belocian got up off the track and left to exit the stadium, there was a track and field official in a blue blazer and an absurd hat whose job was to point Belocian to the correct door. When Belocian started walking one way, the official had to intervene and point him in a new direction. I honestly feared for that guy’s safety.

But that’s the Olympics. For every Usain Bolt who effortlessly glides to gold, there are dozens of Wilhem Belocians who have to reconcile how their dreams and their realities diverged so sharply. Most athletes don’t mess up so dramatically, and they’re at least allowed the satisfaction of competing. But a lot more lose than win, and then there’s usually a guy whose job it is to show them the door.

***

Another newsmaker this Olympics is Hope Solo, the U.S. women’s soccer goalie who, after the Americans lost to Sweden, said the team fell to “a bunch of cowards.” Then she said, “The best team did not win today.” It was a stupid thing to say, which appears to be a side hobby of Hope Solo’s, but it at least crystallized all the ways you’re not supposed to handle losing: Deflecting, blaming, discrediting the people who finished on top. At least Wilhem Belocian was smart enough to not say anything at all.

Contrasted against Solo was the American beach volleyball player Kerry Walsh Jennings, who, alongside partner April Ross, lost to Brazil in the semifinals on Tuesday night. It was the first loss for Jennings in the Olympics in 26 matches, and like Solo, she wasn’t much in the mood for celebrating. “It’s a terrible feeling,” she said.

Jennings went on to say that she and Ross were capable of “squashing” the Brazilians, as they had in the past.  But where she distanced herself from Hope Solo territory is what she said next.

“I say that with so much respect for them. They’re very, very good. Tonight, they rose to the occasion. I certainly did not. There’s no excuse for it. Just terrible execution. They outplayed us pretty much in every way. Not out-hustled us, not out-hearted us, not out-teamworked us. Just outplayed us.”

In her post-match remarks, Jennings detailed all the different ways she messed up against the Brazilians. Something about aces, and passing. I don’t really know volleyball that well, so it was hard for me to follow. But what was apparent is that she was blaming herself. Yes, the Americans could have won. But they didn’t, and that was on her. There was no deflection, no discrediting. It was the first time she had lost an Olympic match, which meant it was also her first chance to navigate the disappointment that countless other Olympians feel when they return home from the Games. At least in this subcategory, she performed admirably.