19 June 2008

US Open 08

I don't watch much golf on TV. But I don't miss a major. Since 1986 I've watched probably every major except for 2 or 3; since 1997 I've seen them all. And when I say 'seen them all', I mean full coverage of all four days, and in almost all cases this means watching every shot that Tiger hits for those four days. (Living in the US, this means getting up at 4am to watch The Open Championship; living in the UK, it means staying up until 3am to watch everything except The Open.) So I've seen a lot of major championship golf, the type that is set up to generate 'unbelievable' shots and stories.

I've never seen anything like the 91 holes that Tiger played from Thursday to Monday.

I refuse to participate in the 'is golf a sport' discussion, but Tiger Woods is an athlete. I've known for a while that it was only right and proper for him to be compared not only to Nicklaus, but also to Jordan or Gretzsky. After this weekend, it's hard not to be believe that he's the best there is - at least in my lifetime, at least those that I've had the privilege to watch.

I think this is sometimes difficult for non-golfers to grasp fully, because Tiger is now expected to win. But no other golfer in history has been 'expected to win' in this manner. For the greatest golfers of previous decades, winning a few majors total was an unbelievable feat. After Jack, Nick Faldo was the greatest major winner, with 6. He won more majors in the 1990s then anyone, with a total of 4. In comparison, Tiger has won 3 in the past 10 months.

But the point is that up until Tiger, every golfer, even every great golfer, missed a lot of cuts, missed a lot of pressure putts, and hit a lot of bad shots that led them to come in 6th rather than 1st. They were 'great' because of what they did over a few years, over a career. And though Jack was undoubtedly the very best of his generation, he had a whole host of players that were very close to him in talent, ability, and wins (Palmer, Trevino, Player, Miller, Weiskopf, Watson, and Floyd, just to name a few). But Tiger is so far above everyone else, that even after missing the next 10 months he'll probably still be ranked number 1 in the world. Tiger has an ability to play under pressure that has never been seen before. In the last two days of this US Open, he simply did not miss any shortish pressure putts. Roco Mediate, who played a fabulous championship, probably missed 8 of those putts over the last two days.

And Tiger can hit shots that for every single other golfer on the planet prove to be an absolute impossibility. He did this on Sunday at the 15th hole, hitting a shot that was, literally, unhittable - and part of me expected him to do it.

Oh, and by the way, it turns out he did all this on a torn ACL with two stress fractures in his tibia. I have no more words to describe or account for this.

So I'll just say congratulations to Tiger, on winning his 17th Major. Yes, you'll see everyone else describe this as his 14th. But they are wrong. I once wrote an article about this, but I wasn't successful at getting it published (I probably shouldn't have used the word 'hypostatise' in it so much). If you are curious, you can read a draft of it here.

1 comment:

Lilita said...

Since marrying the husband, I've not missed a major, though for me, an amateur viewer, that usually means scattered watching on Saturday and most of Sunday. However, for the Open, we no longer have cable, so instead we watched ESPN's webcast which, sometimes rocky camera work notwithstanding, was the best golf coverage I've ever seen, period. And so we watched every fantastic shot, every bizarre landing on a cart path, every chip, every bogey (or double bogey) on the first hole, every grimace Tiger (increasingly) made and, honestly, if people are still debating his status as one of the all-time great athletes, people are dumb. And we should not be friends with those people.