Lost in Tiger’s Masters Victory

Understandably, all of the post tourney press is about Tiger’s comeback from professional golf oblivion. Best comeback in the history of sports many argue.

But just like a year ago, when the University of Virginia basketball team became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in the NCAA tournament, many no doubt missed Francesco Molinari’s master class in gracious losing.

A year ago, after the unlikeliest of defeats, Tony Bennett:

And Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Georgia, Francesco Molinari, taking a page from Bennett’s book:

“I think I made some new fans today with those two double bogeys.” Best runner up interview and line ever. If only all of us were half as centered. As with Bennett, look for Molinari in green sometime soon.

Postscript: How does one explain how Molinari could so surgically make his way around Augusta for 65 holes, then suddenly, as they sometimes say, throw up all over himself? My theory is it had nothing to do with bad swings or Tiger’s death stare, it’s that he could only hold off the weight of the spectators (spare me the “patron” bullshit) for so long. He wasn’t just battling Tiger and numerous other Americans, he was fighting the legion of Tiger fans. How dare anyone, let alone a foreign player, spoil the ending! An empty course and the two stroke cushion he began with is enough to hold Tiger off. Tiger, in other words, owes his victory to the multitudes.

Sports are Not a Metaphor for Life

First a note to international readers. In the U.S. the first two weeks in April is many sports-minded people’s favorite time of the year because of a confluence of great events highlighted by the college basketball national tournaments and the tradition-rich Masters golf tournament. There’s also the start of the professional baseball season and the beginning of the professional hockey and basketball playoffs. And this year there’s going to be a pretty special footrace in Boston next Monday, the 21st.

Few, if any, expected to see the Universities of Connecticut and Kentucky play for the national basketball championship. Combined, both teams lost nineteen games during the regular season. Similarly, Bubba Watson looked completely lost on Augusta National’s greens during Saturday’s third round. Most people thought it was Louisville’s, Arizona’s, or Florida’s tournament to lose and Matt Kuchar’s turn to break through in a major championship. Few were shocked when Bubba fell behind by two strokes early during Sunday’s final round.

But Bubba, following Connecticut’s and Kentucky’s lead, rallied to play his best golf at the most important time, and won by three strokes. My takeaway is this. Next week in Boston, pay no attention to who is in the lead at the halfway mark. In fact, don’t place too much importance on who is ahead at the 20 mile mark. In keeping with this sports season, someone unexpected will assert their will on the field over the last few miles. Call me crazy, but maybe even someone not from East Africa.

When I first sketched this post in my head, I was playing around with what, if anything, these athletic contests have to do with how you and I should live. But I was forcing it because athletic competition is not a meaningful metaphor for life. Because only one team hoists the national championship trophy and only one golfer puts on the green jacket each April.

In life, the more our family members, close friends, and co-workers flourish, the better our lives. The key to that is cooperation in the form of mutual support. In contrast, family, friendship, and co-worker competition inevitably results in petty jealousies, anger, and dissension.

And yet, sometimes there are sublime moments of cooperation in the heat of athletic competition. For example, at one of last year’s major marathons, the two men leading the race passed one water bottle back and forth. Maybe they were Stoics even more focused on giving their best effort than finishing first. And often the most awe-inspiring moments are compliments of young athletes, like high schooler Megan Vogel, who flat out reject win at all costs thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

A Masterful Lesson

I watched a hell of a lot of golf this weekend. I do that one weekend in April every year. It’s a tradition like no other. If I played the same amount as I watched, I would have halved my handicap.

While watching, I marveled at my complete and utter dislike for Tiger Woods. Why do I want anyone but him to win? On Friday, why did I silently cheer when his half wedge at 13 hit the pin on a bounce and caromed back into Rae’s Creek? The Saturday morning penalty was icing on the top. Why do I root so intensely against him? Why does he bring out the worst in me?

My anti-Tiger mania is especially odd since I grew up in Cypress, California a small-medium sized suburban city six miles from Disneyland. It’s most famous for being El Tigre’s hometown. In my teens, I anonymously worked and played the same courses he did so famously in his well documented youth. And he’s a brother in a lily white sport desperately in need of diversity. And his talent is undeniable. And the way he grinds on every shot is admirable. But that’s the kindest thing you’ll ever see me write about him.

Was it the serial womanizing? No. My deep-seated antipathy precedes that downward spiral. Is it the Michael Jordan-like mix of constant commercialism and over the top materialism. In small part. Is it my nostalgia for Nicklaus and my childhood. In small part.

The much larger part came to me while watching Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole. Cabrera hit a very solid approach on the par 4 about 18 feet below the hole. Scott’s mid-iron ended up about 12-14 feet to the side of the hole. Clutch as it gets. Cabrera walked as he watched Scott’s shot in the air. When it landed, he turned and gave Scott a thumbs up sign. Class personified. Scott shot him one right back.

An epiphany exactly one week after Easter. “That’s it!” I realized. Humanity in the midst of the most intense competition imaginable. We’ll never, ever, ever see Tiger do anything like that. His intensity routinely crosses from the admirable to something that makes me root against him. We will never see Tiger applaud an opponent especially in a moment like that. Or reciprocate as Scott did. Never ever. Maybe it’s his dad’s fault, but Tiger learned to focus so intently on winning that everyone and everything else be damned.

I wish the golf press would make a pact and do us all a big favor and just stop interviewing him. He always looks so pained and he never says anything the least bit authentic. He always gives the answers he thinks will end the interview the fastest. The following dialogue bubble should be superimposed on the screen whenever he’s being interviewed, “How much longer until this god foresaken interview with this god d*mned idiot is over?!”

My position on Tiger will soften when a groundskeeper, a golf journalist, a waiter, a caddy, a Tour player, or anyone not on his payroll says something genuinely nice about him. Something that reveals his humanity.

I’m not holding my breath.

Here’s an Idea—A Weekly Sports SparkNote

SparkNotes motto is “When your teachers and books don’t make sense, we do.” SparkNotes provides written and video summaries of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and every other book commonly read in U.S. high schools. Why read the whole book when someone else will do it for you?

No, this isn’t a philosophical discussion on whether SparkNotes is symbolic of national decline. It’s an embracing of the idea of delegating work to others. And of appearing smarter than you actually are.

Imagine how bitchin your life would be if every Monday morning a Sports SparkNote was waiting for you in your email inbox. Think of all the people who could benefit personally or professionally from being in the “sports know”, but aren’t about to take time from their weekend to follow athletic events firsthand? Sometimes I amaze myself. Brilliant, huh? My best idea since half-off, recycled, afternoon newspaper redelivery. Any venture capitalists want to front me?

Imagine the value of a weekly Sports SparkNote to the middle aged mom whose teenage son or daughter thinks she’s hopelessly out of touch because she doesn’t know who Dwight Howard or Lionel Messi is? Or imagine the value to an employee who wants to bond with his or her more sports-minded colleagues Monday morning at the water cooler. Or imagine the value to any man or woman with a sports-centered partner normally forced to fly solo.

Yes, close readers, that was a not so subtle reference to the Good Wife who knows just enough about sports to be dangerous. In hindsight, I should have kept track of her most epic sports faux paus for your reading pleasure. Here’s a sample drop in the bucket, “How are the Sonics doing this year?” Let’s just say I’m comping her a free newsletter.

Here’s a sample issue, in two different sizes, for the investors among you with especially deep pockets. Remember, Instagram was only worth $30m a few months ago. Don’t pass up on this opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

April 9, 2012—Full-meal deal.

• Dwight Howard, a star National Basketball Association (NBA or “The Association”) player for the Orlando Magic said he wanted the team to fire his coach. Then when the coach confirmed that had happened, Howard denied it. This after Howard spent the whole season saying he wanted to be traded, then changed his mind, then said he wanted to be traded, then changed his mind right before the trading deadline. Then he went out and scored 22 points, grabbed 20 boards (rebounds) and all was forgiven. When this story comes up, throw this out there, “Is it a coincidence that most of the NBA drama comes from knuckleheads who skipped college?” Then slowly moonwalk away from the water cooler, and silently thank “Sports SparkNotes” for your enhanced status.

• In the National Football League (NFL), Gregg Williams, the former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator has been indefinitely suspended by the league as a result of paying his players under the table to injure opposing players. The scandal is termed “Bounty Gate”. An audio tape was released of one of Williams’ pre-game “pep talks” which shocked even the most fanatical NFL acolytes. He used lots of naughty words and repeatedly implored his players to go after the knees and heads of opposing players. This is especially problematic right now since the NFL is catching up to the science that shows repeated concussions seriously compromise players long-term well being. Some claim the NFL has known that for awhile, but is only serious about protecting players now because an increasing number of retired players with cognitive problems are suing the league. Water cooler one liner, “Guys like Williams give new meaning to the No Fun League.”

• Late last week, 51 year-old Bobby Petrino, the very successful University of Arkansas football coach crashed his motorcycle. He then told the “U” he was riding alone only to find out later a 25 year-old woman who he hired to oversee recruiting paperwork was also with him. She was engaged to another employee in the athletic department who has apparently broken it off. Now she’s in seclusion. No word yet what the coach’s wife or four kids think of his indiscretion. Smart-ass water cooler quip, “When is it okay to cheat on your wife, lie to your Athletic Director, and become ‘Sports SparkNotes’ fodder? When you win 11 games. [update—Petrino has been canned]

• Bubba Watson, a lefty from the U. S. of A., who played his college golf at the University of Georgia, is the first professional golfer never to have taken a lesson. Sunday he won the Masters, the year’s first (of four) golf majors at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Bubba hit a miraculous shot from out of the trees to win on the second sudden death playoff hole over Louis Oosthuizen from South Africa. Bubba recently bought the Dukes of Hazard car, The General Lee, for $110,000; and with his wife, just adopted a baby boy. Water cooler lines of choice: 1) “I hooked my wedge 40 yards once too, but I wasn’t trying.” 2) Nice weekend to be a Bulldog (Georgia’s mascot).

April 9, 2012—Low-fat alternative.

• A star National Basketball Association (NBA or “The Association”) player for the Orlando Magic said he wanted the team to fire his coach. Then when the coach confirmed that had happened, he denied it. Water cooler line—”Is it a coincidence that most of the NBA drama comes from knuckleheads who skipped college?”

• A former National Football League (NFL) coach has been indefinitely suspended by the league as a result of paying his players under the table to injure opposing players in what’s known as “Bounty Gate”. The NFL is catching up to the science that shows repeated concussions seriously compromise players long-term well being. Water cooler line, “That screed gives new meaning to the No Fun League.”

• The very successful University of Arkansas football coach crashed his motorcycle. Turns out a 25 year-old woman who he hired was also with him. No word yet what the coach’s wife or four kids think of his indiscretion. Water cooler rhetorical question, “When is it okay to cheat on your wife, lie to your Athletic Director, and become ‘Sports SparkNotes’ fodder? When you win 11 games.” [update—Petrino has been canned]

• Bubba Watson, who played his college golf at the University of Georgia, won the Masters, the year’s first (of four) golf majors at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Bubba hit a miraculous shot from out of the trees to win a playoff. Water cooler lines of choice: 1) “I hooked my wedge 40 yards once too, but I wasn’t trying.” 2) Nice weekend to be a Bulldog (Georgia’s mascot).

Which of these weekly Sports SparkNotes, the “full meal deal” or the “low-fat alternative” would change your life more? And what’s a fair price for your changed life? You spend the weekend sleeping in, reading, hiking, cleaning the garage, working in the yard, dining with family and friends, watching non-sports related films, and I devote myself to your sports (and cultural) literacy. One dollar?

I Predict

One year ago, I predicted the Seattle Mariners were going to win the World Series. Finishing the regular season at 61-101, they just missed the playoffs. Their anemic offense set records for futility. I am the original April Fool.

A few weeks ago I predicted the Belmont Bruins were going to win a few NCAA tournament games and go farther than Arizona. Wrong and wrong.

I will not be swayed. I predict I’m going to see the sun next week when I’m living large in . . . wait for it. . . Palm Springs, California. Look for me. I’ll be the dude by the pool with a hoodie over my headphones. This is what I’ll be rocking.

I also predict Butler over KY which means you should bet on UConn or VCU (where I interviewed for a job back in the day). Shaka did too much press this week. Wasn’t smart. Beware the bright lights.

In other news, we learned this week that the President has been lurking on Pressing Pause. Wednesday’s headline read, “Obama calls for U.S. to cut oil imports by a third by 2025“. Of course any goal that exceeds a politicians term by a year, let alone nine or thirteen, is disingenuous. In 2025, Obama will be playing golf on a daily basis. I call bullshit on any politician whose promises exceed his or her term.

Every once in a while you write a post that starts out nice and focused, say on failed predictions, and then goes off the rails, and we all know what happens when a train jumps the rails.

Fitness update. See, total nonsequitur. Jumping the rails never ends well. March was very solid. In terms of Tour de France prep, I’m slightly ahead of schedule. Lighter than normal teaching schedule, injury free, no excuses. Swam 2x/week, 29,400m; cycled about 4 hours a week, 349 miles, all but 76 indoors on the M3; and ran 4x/week, 148 miles. And I’m turning into a pushup planking machine. Highlight of the month (or year, or decade, or my athletic life), when Marley spotted me too big of a lead up our hill and I held him off for the driveway victory. Lowlight, doing backstroke right on the lane line during a busy day at the pool and first brushing an unknown woman’s breast, then her hip, and then her thigh in the lane next to me. I was not arrested and I have not seen my picture in the lobby. Wonder what the statue of limitations is on something like that?

What races or events are on the schedule? Apart from waiting on the RAMROD lottery, strangely, none at present.

As soon at Butler cuts down the nets, the obvious question isn’t what to do in Libya, but who is going to win the first major golf tournament of the year at Augusta National? Tiger, Phil, Watney, Kuchar, Westwood, Double E, Kaymer, Couples, Matteo Manasserro? I’m going to go with Watney, which means he’ll be lucky to make the cut.

For tolerating this stream of consciousness, I give you Cori Schumacher, who because she’s not for sale, is the Pressing Pause Person of the Week. Link here.

As always, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend and “see” you next week.

Left to right, The Winner and the LOSER