Christy Kite – A Lesson In Mental Toughness

Christy and Tom Kite - 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Christy and Tom Kite – 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Golf is an interesting game in many aspects.  Today’s topic is mental toughness.

As golfers, we’ve all faced situations where our ability to focus has been interrupted by fear or concern about the outcome.  And, we know that the ability to remain focused under pressure is crucial to maximum performance.

Mental toughness is an relatively straightforward concept.   It’s about envisioning a positive outcome in pressure situations.  Its about seeing the outcome and believing in that outcome to the extent that you can give your best performance.  It doesn’t guarantee an outcome but it does allow for your best performance.  In the end, that’s all we can ask.

Sadly,  one of the greatest lessons in mental toughness that I have witnessed came from Christy Kite.  She was physically small, but in the realm of mental toughness, she was impressively large.

Through a lifelong friendship with Tom, I got to know Christy Kite.  As a result, I can bear witness to how she conducted herself through the last several years of her life as she battled cancer and finally lost to this relentless disease.  I can’t begin to express how difficult of a journey that has been for her and the entire family.

What I saw in Christy during this ordeal was a mental toughness, a courage, a grace,  that will remain forever embedded in my mind.  In the face of odds that were not in her favor, I saw her make difficult decisions and fight on through the pain and misery of surgery and chemotherapy and never give up the belief that she would win her battle with cancer.

It is one thing to be positive when the odds are at least fifty/fifty and the stakes are not life and death.  It’s another to be positive when the odds are against you and the price of fighting on is guaranteed pain and suffering.

Viewed in a slightly different context, Tom Kite’s comment to me concerning Christy’s mental toughness was this: “Compared to Christy, I’m a whimp.”    And, I can tell you from personal experience,  these words are coming from the mouth of someone who is extremely disciplined and mentally tough.

Through the course of Christy’s illness, I had conversations with other members of Austin Country Club who have known Tom and Christy for decades.  They suffered through Christy’s ordeal as it unfolded and prayed for a positive outcome.  I often heard the comment  “I don’t know if I would have the courage to endure what Christy is going through.  I might have given up long ago.”

One thing I do know is this.  The next time I a face a shot or a putt that seems important to me, I’ll know where to turn to gain a bit of perspective on the subject of performing under pressure and hopefully I’ll be a little more courageous about believing I can make the shot or putt.  I’ll simply think of Christy.  She performed beautifully under pressure.

Rest in peace Christy.

To the Kite family, “Peace be with you”.

P.S.  I’ll also have a different perspective when I read obituaries that include phrasing like “after a long battle with cancer” our loved one passed on.  Now I know a little bit more about what that phrase means.

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