Monday, July 20, 2009

Open Commentary From Across the Pond

From my friend Craig, fellow sports fanatic - there's a lot of great stuff here!

I don’t recall ever, in a virtual lifetime of watching sports, being so completely emotionally engaged in the outcome of a sports event, period. I don’t think it worth discussing the playoff, so the comments below pertain to the regulation round. I could barely watch as Watson hit the short birdie putt on 17 (I was certain he would miss that one). In fact, I actually had my hands in front of my face and was looking at the TV between my fingers. Up until that moment, I did not really believe he could win. Ironically, only once it became believable that the miracle might indeed happen was reality to intrude and yank the possibility away at the last second. I know everyone will look at his putt on 18 and highlight how badly he gagged on it, but I personally will remember the amazing number of great shots he hit to get to that point.

Throughout the day, I was sure he was going to fold as the pressure grew. The hybrid into 17 from 260 yards away was absolutely amazing. The number of fairways he hit with driver under the extreme pressure of the moment, while all around him struggled to do the same was shocking as the back 9 unfolded. I would have bet anything on a missed fairway on 18. In the end, his full swing held up to the most immense circumstances and at 59 years old that just didn’t seem possible. Even the approach to 18 was another perfectly struck iron, directly at the flag.

That he was in position to win was a testimony to his long game being way better than anyone else on Sunday. Because, one thing for sure, he wasn’t going to win with his short game or putting. As anyone who has ever had the yips can attest (and I unfortunately am one of them), the less discussed side effect of them is that the fear of a 4 footer coming back results in consistently leaving makeable putts short. We saw that from Tom from the first hole on Sunday. How many putts from 15 to 25 feet did he leave a foot short and right on target? Earlier in the week, when the pressure was less, they went in. He consistently read those greens perfectly. I don’t know what the US announcers said about his choice of putter from behind 18, but the BBC guys were questioning it from the moment he pulled his glove off (as they did on his similar decision from behind 17). Again, I totally understood Watson’s decision making. If you are nervous and yippy, there is nothing harder than trying to hit a delicate, short chip shot. A bad putt would result in a makeable next shot, whereas a bad chip could leave you chipping again (and brings much higher scores into play).

One final note on getting up and down from behind 18; no one else they showed who hit it back there did so successfully. I think I saw Els and Wood and at least one other fail to make par from back there, too. Of note, they all missed their par putts on the same side as Watson did, suggesting a difficult read.

Cink was a worthy and classy winner. Interestingly, The BBC interviewed Padraig Harrington after he finished his round (and before the leaders teed off), and he picked Cink as the guy he thought would win.

I feel really bad for Westwood. It was really silly of him to play for a birdie when we all knew that bogey was a real possibility for Watson. Westwood hit one of the most amazing shots ever out of that bunker only to waste it with that bad first putt.

Turnberry was a real winner of a venue. It is my favorite course I have played on this side of the ocean. Though I really played a different course when I played it last year. I played from the same tees they did, the new back ones, but the wind was from the opposite direction. I couldn’t reach the fairway on 17 with 3 tries with a driver. It is about a 230 yard carry and it was into a 25 mile an hour wind. I ended up finding my second drive in the hay on that hole and making a 10 there. 18 was also into the wind and I hit driver and 2 hybrid to get there for birdie, whereas these guys were hitting 4 iron tee shots and 8 iron approaches down wind. I think I shot 86 that day. The first time I played it (a couple years earlier) from the previous back tees (about 300 yards shorter) on a day with little wind and shot 73.

It is remarkable to think that Watson is 13 years older than Nicklaus was in 1986 and we thought that was miraculous! Oh well, in the end, I think we all felt like we were experiencing Tom’s ride with him. We somehow were all fighting off the demons of age, pressure and anxiety as we watched him try to do so. Maybe that is why it felt like such a loss. Metaphorically, I guess we can’t beat time. I just hope we can persevere with the same fortitude and grace as Tom Watson was able to demonstrate yesterday.

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