Apparently, my feelings on the golf establishment haven’t changed in the past four years. I wasn’t aware of this until yesterday, but there’s something to be said for consistency.
With that, this weekend I will be rooting for charismatic 25-year-old Australian Jason Day -– the leader after Day 2 — to win the Masters, instead of the guy who likely will be the sentimental favorite, 53-year-old Fred Couples.
This is because most fans of Fred Couples sort of look and act like Fred Couples, and it’s about time golf expanded its cultural and ethnic horizons.
Crowning a younger, worldly champion like Day might help carve this path.
Anyhow, this was the argument I had planned to bring yesterday to the William Hill Sports Show, on which I’ve become something of a regular guest. The show runs Fridays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on 94.5 ESPN Radio.
With the second round of the Masters finishing up as we took to the airwaves, I knew the golf tournament would be the topic of at least one segment.
In an effort to make sure I was prepared, I decided I was going to dust off my “new school > old school” argument about golf, and I remembered that I had penned a blog post about it a few years back when a then-59-year-old Tom Watson came within a missed 8-foot putt of winning the British Open.
I tracked down the post -– which exists on a now-defunct free blog site I used back in the day -– and re-read it, in order to see if there were any tidbits I could use for my radio spot.
Much to my pleasant surprise, I found out there were quite a few timeless, relevant points from that post that I could use on the show. Moreover, I discovered something else even more surprising … it made me laugh … repeatedly.
This is a rarity on several fronts. For one, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to humor, particularly from writing. It’s difficult to move me to laughter from the written word, and I don’t find most humorists as funny as many people believe they are.
What’s more, I am by far my own worst critic. It’s an extremely rare occasion in which I’ll look at something I wrote and decide it’s above-average or, dare I say, “good.” This Tom Watson post is pretty good.
I had forgotten almost every word of it and, as I read it yesterday, it felt as though I was reading someone else’s work. I also laughed out loud a few times, and both such reactions are a bit uncomfortable and unusual.
Anyhow, I decided to pay homage to my irreverent take on the golf establishment by re-posting it on my (somewhat) new-and-improved website, where it’s bound to get a few more views than it did on my low-profile, pre-Facebook (for me) WordPress site four years ago.
No Ground Control For Another Major, Tom (July 23, 2009)
As Tom Watson strolled up the 18th fairway Sunday to the deafening roars of the faithful golf fans in Turnberry, Scotland, you had a feeling we were about to see history.
Sensing the gravity of the moment, as any sports fan might, a couple of words came to mind as I watched Watson line up his 8-foot putt for the win in the British Open.
Make that six words.
Please, please, please, please please choke.
This was asking a lot, because I knew most of the sports world was against me, including a warm-and-fuzzy ABC commentator who predicted Watson would sink the putt and win his ninth major title at age 59.
Then, as if I had scripted the outcome, Watson approached the putt with that dentist-chair-in-sight squeamishness to which we have become so accustomed while watching Shaq step to the free-throw line.
His stroke also mirrored that of Shaq; no touch, no confidence, no chance.
Although Watson’s miss didn’t technically end his British Open run, we all knew it was over. Similar to Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer that tied Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the end of regulation, Watson’s playoff against Stewart Cink was a mere formality, similar to the Lakers’ overtime walk-through against the Orlando Magic.
Whew. With all due respect to Major Tom –- and a guy with eight majors to his credit deserves his share -– the last thing the golf establishment needs is another reason to give more unabashed glory to an old white guy.
The thought of this makes me more ill than all those unfortunate close-ups of the blotched, faded skin on the back of Watson’s neck, to which ABC so regretfully subjected its viewers.
Golf already is bent on deifying the ghosts of its past without any legitimate justification, and a win by Watson would have taken this shtick to unprecedented lows. The sport’s silent majority was still rolling on the putting green with laughter at the fact that the really famous black guy in the tournament missed the cut.
This gave them a chance to celebrate the British Open’s winner as a master of the “old school” style of golf. Well, when perfectly true tee shots hit the middle of the fairway, only to be sucked into an abyss of a bunker 40 yards out of view, this isn’t golf. It’s the old Atari video game “Pitfall” brought to life on a grassy knoll.
Given the alternative, I’ll take Tiger Woods and Anthony Kim smashing their drives 350 yards and drilling 50-foot putts any day of the week. Call me “new school” if you will, but don’t call me on Sunday at 6 a.m. to watch the British Open.
Handing over the “jug” that is bestowed upon the winner to a guy who needs to change his Depends after nine holes -– six or seven on some days, it depends -– would have effectively rolled golf’s clock back at least 20 years, and the sport’s “purists” would have put a death grip on the hands of time to keep it there indefinitely.
Golf doesn’t merely celebrate its past -— it lives off it, present and future be damned. Never has an entity honored dudes who have at least one foot in the grave this side of the local funeral home, and the assisted-care facility with which it contracts.
Whenever you watch the Masters or the British Open, the coverage is flooded with highlights and homage to past champions. Not last year’s champion, mind you, but endless, grainy reels of guys like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the like.
Without fail, one living member of the Boys Club is trotted out to take part in the tournament. Inevitably, our living legend limps through a round of 97, and his triple-bogey on No. 18 is met with a standing ovation, as if this were some sort of accomplishment.
Really, it isn’t. Such deeply grounded golf traditions only prove that an old fart like Arnold Palmer is, in fact, old.
Watson’s near-miss in the British Open -– though his choke on the final putt was anything but “near” –- is a much more meaningful feat, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we couldn’t have lived without.
For instance, I’d be willing to bet that Rick Barry could beat LeBron James in a free-throw shooting contest today, but I wouldn’t turn on the TV to watch it. Moreover, you don’t see the Lakers letting Jerry West play the first 5 minutes of a playoff game, to pay homage to the fact that he used to be good at basketball, do you? And if they did, would you be impressed?
I’d like to tell you how badly I feel for Watson, but I don’t. Frankly, he was a little too self-indulgent for my taste. When his performance became the story of the British Open, he did everything he could to keep it that way. When was the last time you saw Tiger Woods lead the crowd in the wave, or visibly cry as the other guy sealed a victory?
In the end, Watson’s putt just didn’t have enough ground control to win another major for Major Tom. Although, to his credit, he didn’t go down without a fight.
I could have sworn I saw him replace the ball at least two inches ahead of where he marked it on hole No. 18 (I’ve never understood why golf allows this, seeing as it is physically impossible to place the ball in the exact same spot from which it was moved), and I’m pretty sure I saw Watson purposely break wind during Cink’s backswing on the first playoff hole.
But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. So instead of the jug going to a past-his-prime champion who looks like a dead ringer for William H. Macy — minus watson’s goofy powder blue sweater vest and pants — it went to an underachieving first-time winner who has lookalike qualities of his own.
The 36-year-old Cink, coincidentally, is a dead ringer for the third-place finisher, 36-year-old Lee Westwood, save for the latter’s goofy neon green sweater vest and cap. This merits mention because the loud attire is the only way to tell the two apart.
That, and the fact that the Alabama-born Cink was the one holding the trophy at the day’s end. I would have preferred watching it go to Westwood, because the England-born golfer at least would have given the tournament a quasi-homegrown champion around which you can build a decent story.
Even so, watching Cink break through and capture his first major still strikes me as more relevant than Watson choking, cheating, farting and crying.
While the latter made for an interesting side show for one weekend, the former will have a more of a say in golf’s future.
And it’s about time the golf establishment gave “new school” players their due.