Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category

Despite his #4 ranking, Tiger Woods proved in dramatic fashion on Sunday why he is still the greatest golfer on the planet. He birdied three of the last four holes at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village en route to his 73rd PGA Tour victory, which tied the career total of tournament host Jack Nicklaus. The defining moment came on the 16th hole when he launched a perfectly struck flop shot out of deep rough towards a downward-sloping green. For most, it would have been a prayer, one of those shots that you hit knowing that the most likely outcomes are leaving it short in the rough or blading it into the eagerly awaiting water. But when the ball dropped in the right side of the cup, it was blissful nostalgia for Woods’ fans, an affirmation of his incredible skill and a reminder that he still has the ability to dominate.

No doubt, it reminded the other players of the hegemonic reign of terror he presided over in the 2000s, a competitive dystopia of Woods’ creation that swiftly annihilated golfers’ dreams of victory and paid real-life homage to Curt Richter’s behavioral despair test, more commonly known as the forced swimming test. For those of you who don’t want to click on the link, the macabre experiment from the 1950s that I somehow remembered from 12th grade psychology class basically puts rats in an inescapable bowl of water and forces them to swim until they give up. The first time through, the animals swim for an average of 15 minutes before giving up and drowning. But, half of them are saved, only to be put through the same experiment a second time. These rats, having already been rescued once, now swim for much longer, some for up to 60 hours, before drowning. The experiment tells us that animals, and thus humans, exert more effort for something they think is achievable and give up when they feel beaten. There could not be a more perfect analogy for the hopelessness that Woods’ competitors showed for years. Watching challenger after challenger fade from the moment in the pinnacle of Woods’ career was eerily reminiscent of Richter’s perverse experiment and astonishing at the same time.

Count me among those who does not care what Woods did in his private life. I admire my father and grandfathers as strong men who devote themselves to working hard and loving and supporting their family. I admire Tiger Woods as a golfer. There’s a huge difference, and anyone who confuses the two may as well tell their father that he’s a failure because he’s not a professional athlete. It makes no sense and I could write a novel on the misguided notions that make people look up to athletes as authorities on life and morality. Despite Woods’ mistakes in life, he remains one of my all-time athletic idols and always will. But I digress. A lot.

Woods’ victory also made me think about the difference between a single victory and the pursuit of an all-time record. When you’re attempting to win a competition, a large part of your motivation is derived from negative feelings toward the opponent. But what happens when you have been so far ahead of your competitors for so long that you can no longer dislike them? Anger is an indecisive emotion. It can be a destructive, vitriolic force that turns even the most mild-mannered person into a heinous beast. It can also be a powerfully seductive weapon that narrows vision, increases focus and improves performance. Anger draws a fine line in the sand. It repels those who can’t control it and allows only the most savvy and disciplined athletes to breach its border and mine the potential gold that lies within. As a result, Woods’ pursuit of two nearly indelible records — Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories and Nicklaus’ 18 major wins — has to be difficult. Having mercilessly beat so many opponents in his career, Woods is now truly competing against only the all-time records. While he undoubtedly would love to have both of them, the motivation is no longer as immediate. Has that sentiment tempered his lust for victory? Only he knows. For my part, I don’t think so.

Woods’ hole-out on the 16th today was one of the greatest shots ever. Even Nicklaus called it “the most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen.” And despite Woods’ many accomplishments through the years, he still has something to prove. He is not the traditional athlete that peaks and then fades into obsolescence. For a decade, he was the golf equivalent of Atlas, a celestial Titan who carried the golfing heavens upon his shoulders. But finally, he was crushed by its weight and his own infidelity. Because of this, Woods now has more critics to disprove, a renewed dedication to the game and more competitors to crush.

His opponents best take notice. The days of easy victories are over, and to win from now on, opponents once again will have to go through Tiger Woods. At the upcoming U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, just like Richter, he’ll throw them in the water and wish them luck. I hope they can swim.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

On Easter Sunday, millions of people around the world watched the world’s best golfers battle for the green jacket and title of Masters’ Champion. Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne even boasted that viewers watched in more than 200 countries worldwide, eclipsing the generally accepted number of 196 nations and meaning that despite the club’s antiquated stance on female membership, it does officially recognize Palestine as a country. Seems to be a step in the right direction…sort of.

The only thing more inflated than Payne’s geographical musings was the stunning length of eventual winner Bubba Watson’s drives. Not only did he prove that he is one of the best players in the world, but also disproved the male notion that pink has no place in the hyper-masculine world of professional sports. While the matte-pink Ping G20 driver that Watson swings may be more evocative of “Hello Kitty” than of toughness and victory, there is more to it than meets the eye. Ping will donate $300 to cancer-related charities for every 300-yard drive that Watson blasts in 2012, and with his current driving average sitting at a tour-leading 309.9 yards, the eleemosynary tee shots could prove to be quite lucrative for the beneficiaries.

Watson’s initiative draws attention to the vastly underappreciated benevolence of the PGA Tour and its players. In the world of sports philanthropy, the PGA seems to take a back seat to other major organizations, but a quick look at its recent history shows a deep commitment to charity on the part of the PGA and its individual players. There are too many examples to list here, but overall, the PGA has given more than $1.6 billion to charity and donated $110 million in 2010 alone. The tour’s operational paradigm makes all this possible. Each event operates independently, which allows the tour to donate millions in net proceeds. The players also support their own, as they prove in this New York Times piece. Maybe most impressive is the story of Ryo Ishikawa, who in 2011 agreed to donate his ENTIRE winnings to earthquake relief in his homeland of Japan. Every single cent…plus $1,000 for each birdie he made, resulting in a grand total of more than $1.5 million.

Still think these guys are a bunch of rich, indifferent country-club types with bulging wallets and vacuous hearts? While the PGA certainly promotes these efforts, the coverage pales in comparison to the other major sports leagues. If LeBron James serves up a plate of spaghetti at a Miami soup kitchen, ESPN sends reporters to cover it round-the-clock. The PGA doesn’t throw its initiatives in our faces, but rather engages in charity out of a sense of altruism, not as an ephemeral corporate strategy to drive viewership. These values are refreshing in today’s world, and make me believe in the PGA and its mission. But, do I believe enough to buy a pink driver if Ping brings it to market? Probably, even if only for the calming effect after another slice into the woods.

Update (April 10th): Ping has announced that 5,000 limited edition pink drivers will be sold starting June 1st. Read more about it on Ping’s website here. I’m envisioning some sort of Wal-Mart on Black Friday scenario. I’ll be the one pushing children out of the way for the 9.5ยบ club.

Read Full Post »