Tiger’s story not the only interesting one in golf
If you’re like most casual golf fans under the age of 30, you probably only watch the major championship events that get a lot of coverage on TV. Then, you probably only watch if Tiger Woods is in contention and just on Sunday.
I understand. It’s totally fine. Tiger Woods is one of the richest and most recognized people on the face of the Earth. The younger generation can relate to him. He is the No. 1 golfer for a reason – the number of majors he has won is astounding.
But the sad truth is, when Tiger isn’t in contention on Sunday at a major, people aren’t watching. It’s a shame, too, because the other guys on the tour deserve some credit. Maybe I didn’t appreciate the sport until I started playing it, but there are millions of neat stories in every tournament, and some of the other golfers need some time in the limelight, too.
Nowhere was this more on display than at the 2009 British Open. Tiger had a short weekend. He shot a four-over par to make sure he missed the cut for the weekend. It was painful to watch him hook, shank and slice his shots into the powerful wind at the Ailsa Course in Turnberry, Scotland. Every time he slammed his club into the ground you gathered that he wasn’t all there.
The golfing world needed a new storyline to carry the weekend.
Enter Tom Watson, the venerable 59-year-old golfing legend who took one last shot at British Open glory this year. He’s a former No. 1 ranked golfer from 1978-82, and up through 1986 he was in the top 10. He’s won eight major championships, including five victories at the British Open. He hasn’t finished a major event since the PGA Open Championship in 2006 when he finished tied for 48th, and he has just 10 finishes in majors since 2000. Watson hadn’t even won a major since 1983.
Then this weekend he turned back the clock and drew the attention of fans around the world.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t know who Watson was before he shot a 65 on Friday. But I picked up on the story quickly. It’s just amazing how someone who hasn’t been at the top in 26 years all of a sudden can place second at one of the four biggest golf tournaments of the year.
His perseverance through the four days was amazing. On Friday he bogied four consecutive holes. What did he do after that, on the last 10 holes? He birdied four of them, including the 18th, to tie for the lead.
Watson’s third and fourth rounds weren’t great – he shot 71 and 72 respectively – but while other competitors bogied themselves straight out of contention, Watson hit shot after shot straight and accurate. His one screw-up came on 18. After a perfect drive from the tee, he hit an 8-iron too long and the ball skipped over the green. His third shot left him within eight feet of the hole and a par putt away from the championship. However, he pushed the ball right and bogied to drop into a tie with Stewart Cink, forcing a four-hole playoff, which he eventually lost in four holes to Cink.
It was disappointing to see him finish like that. There couldn’t have been a better way to end his run than with a putt to win it. But instead of a storybook ending, the missed putt reminded golf fans that no matter who is putting the ball, the game is just as unforgiving. You can be a pro golfer or just a schmuck who plays on the weekend, but if you don’t follow through on your putts, you miss them.
And for those detractors who say that golf isn’t a sport, think again. I read about 10 different twitters/blogs/facebook statuses that said something to the effect of:
“Thanks Tom Watson, for reaffirming that golf is not a ‘sport’ but a game. If a 59-year-old can beat out 20-somethings, it isn’t a sport.”
Obviously, the people saying that don’t realize that a sport has a broad definition and it doesn’t just matter on the amazing physical endurance and capabilities of an athlete. Sport is a mix of physical and mental challenges in something that is played competitively.
Yes, Tom Watson or John Daly aren’t going to go out and dunk a basketball or win a 100-meter dash. However, they’re professional golfers for a reason. The ways they can manipulate the golf ball with their clubs is ridiculous. The constant mental pressure they are under is incomparable. Having to make a birdie putt to win a tournament has no equal. The closest thing to it in sports is making a free throw at the end of a game to win, but even that isn’t even the same, because you’ve shot a free throw thousands of times. Each putt is unique. It’s never the same.
All the same, I’d like to thank Mr. Watson for showing me and everyone else that golf isn’t about age and is fun to watch without Tiger on the prowl. I can only hope that I am as happy and good at something at 59.
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