Monday, April 12, 2010

The Masters puts a cap on an amazing two weeks in sports

So what did we learn from The Masters?

First—and foremost—Phil Mickelson has put the ghosts of Winged Foot behind him once and for all. He put on a remarkable display on the back nine on both Saturday and Sunday to win going away after it appeared likely the tournament would be decided on the 18th green or in sudden death.

Second, Tiger Woods is still Tiger Woods: for good and for bad. There is not another player on the planet who could have come back after a five month layoff and all the self-created tumult in his life and figured out a way to tie for fourth in a major championship. He’s still the same golfer. He’s also still the same person: pitching himself to corporate America during his Monday press conference; authorizing the release of a creepy ad in which his dead father is used to try and sell product; slamming clubs and barking profanities (but no f-bombs) and then getting upset when Peter Kostis asked him about it.

If you expected different, I hope you weren’t disappointed. Those of us who didn’t expect different just sort of shrug, move on and focus on all the truly wonderful stories that made for a remarkable week at Augusta.

The weather was beyond spectacular, which—along with some very inviting pin placements—made for very low scoring. Think about this for a second: Mickelson’s winning score of 272 was two shots higher than Woods’ winning score of 270 back in 1997 when the golf course was 500 yards shorter. I wonder if The Lords of Augusta will lengthen the golf course to 8,000 yards before next year.

Actually, I doubt it. I think they learned a lesson when they went too far with their course alterations that—along with cold, windy weather—led to Zach Johnson winning with a one-over-par 289 three years ago. That was about as dreary a Masters as anyone could remember (no knock on Johnson) and I think the green jackets enjoyed all the roars echoing off the trees on Saturday and Sunday. So don’t expect anything more than the usual tweaks the club makes every year if only to figure out how to spend some of its endless supply of money.

The golf tournament had almost every possible story line imaginable: Tom Watson, who hadn’t made a cut since 2002, shot 67 the first day and finished tied for 18th with his son Michael caddying for him and reminding him constantly that he could still play the golf course even at 60. Fred Couples was in contention almost until the end, looking for all the world as if he was playing a casual round at dusk back home. It looked as if the most serious thing on his mind Sunday afternoon was wondering who was going to win the Rangers-Flyers showdown for the last playoff spot in The East.

Of course that’s not true. One thing people tend to miss about Couples is how competitive he is. Because he looks and sounds casual about his golf game, people think he’s just strolling around making birdies. I remember back in 1998 when I was working on “The Majors,” I spent a lot of time with Couples. That was the year he led The Masters almost the entire week before losing by a stroke to Mark O’Meara. I remember talking to him a month later at The Memorial and he still wasn’t over it.

“A bunch of us went to dinner that night (after The Masters) and I remember no one said a word,” he said back then. “I kind of felt bad because everyone was looking at me to see how I was doing and I was just too down to talk at all.”

You don’t win as much as Couples has won without caring. You don’t have to slam clubs or scream, “goddammit Tiger you suck,” to be competitive. I’m the last person in the world who should or will give anyone a hard time for using profanity. Those of us who use it too much try to control it and sometimes we fail—which is our fault. But when we’re called on it, the best thing to do is not to say, “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” especially if you’ve said a few days earlier that it’s a big deal.

Back to Mickelson: A lot of people, myself included, wondered if he’d ever recover from the Winged Foot meltdown and win another major. He was 36 at the time, two years older than Arnold Palmer was when he won his last major and three years older than Watson was when he won the British Open in 1983. Clearly, the loss scarred him and his attempt to declare his win at the 2007 Players a major win came off as kind of silly.

But he hung in there. One thing people miss about Mickelson is that he’s a grinder. For all the talk about his great talent and ability to pull of magical shots (or not pull off magical shots) he is constantly trying to figure out how to get better: changing swing coaches, bringing in different people to help with his short game and his putting, trying different routines to prepare for majors.

Of course everything in his life changed last year when his wife Amy and then his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer. If he had managed to win the U.S. open at Bethpage last June they would have started filming the movie the next day. He took a break from the tour while Amy underwent surgery and when he came back in August—to slightly less fanfare than Woods at Augusta—he lingered in the press room in Akron after his first meeting with the media, thanking people for their good wishes and trading jokes with writers he IS friendly with as opposed to his long-time rival.

“You know I hate to say this,” he said at one point, “but I think I actually missed you guys.”

He hadn’t played well this year prior to Augusta. Whether it was the genuine distraction of Amy’s continuing struggles to feel well because of the side-affects of her medication or missing the emotional jolt he gets when Woods is playing, he never seriously contended. In the end, none of those tournaments mattered and they certainly don’t matter now. He played memorably down the stretch and it is probably fair to say that his hug with Amy behind the 18th green will be replayed a lot more in the future than Woods’s hug with his father back in ’97 which feels a lot different now to many people than it did prior to November 27th.

In all, it was an amazing two weeks in sports. The Final Four produced a national championship game for the ages and The Masters had so much shot-making your head needed to be on a swivel to keep up. I’m always exhausted when I get home from The Final Four/Masters trip but I remind myself on the way home how incredibly lucky I am to get to go to both events every year.

This year, especially after what happened to me last June, I’ve never felt that way more than I did last night.

*****

Now that I am finally home after 29 of the last 42 days on the road, I’m going to try to take some time to get my life back in order. (You should see my office right now). So, I’m going to skip the blog on Tuesday and Thursday this week unless something monumental occurs—like a two-game Mets winning streak. I hope everyone understands.

23 comments:

Mr. X said...

John,

No comparison from you between Phil's decision on 13 and Farokhmanesh's 3 against KU?

Paul said...

The self serving and opinionated Media has had a feast with Tiger and now Phil.

Change for Mr. Wood does not come in one week so give the guy a break and stop riding him so hard. We can't all be perfect in our daily lives like Mr. Feinstein and all his Media buddies. Most of the Media Guys have over reached and have turned in Sports Psychologist and Media Gawker regarding this Tiger Woods case.

The right Guy won the Tournament, The Green Suits at Augusta seemed particularly pleased with Phil winning their Tournament. He's a worthy champion shooting 272 and has the image they want to portray to the World.

As a Fan and not a Media Elite, I hope we can focus on Golf and not "Tiger wore a Blue Shirt today, what does that mean. Lastly, Hank Haney is a bust.. he's ruined Tigers Swing.. I hope TW throws him out on his rear end. Hank is a waste of space!

Anonymous said...

Just curious... does my favorite golf (and sports) writer of all time, Dan Jenkins, still attend the Masters? I was hoping you might share some stories about Jenkins; I'll bet you have some good ones.

Anonymous said...

John,

Is possible to write a story that has something to do with Tiger without ripping him for something? Could you actually bring yourself to do that?? So Tiger was frustrated at himself and said "Tiger Woods, you SUCK"...big deal. Seriously, do you media guys have to nit pick on everything he does? Are your lives that boring? That's what makes him the greatest player ever....he's very competitive and pushes himself like no other player. Yes, Couples can win without cursing and slamming golf clubs but the last time I checked, he doesn't have 14 majors. Personally, I prefer a few F bombs here and there and 14 majors. No one is perfect...we ALL curse so just give it a rest already.

On a serious note, could you please be honest and tell us just what EXACTLY Tiger did to you. I really want to know because I've read at least 15 to 20 articles you've written about Tiger in some regard and it ALWAYS involves at least SOMETHING negative....ALWAYS. This is personal so I'm just curious as to what EXACTLY he did to you because the things you rip him for, he's not the only person that does them but I don't see you ripping others. I know you read these comments so I'm expecting your response at some point.

Tim said...

Anonymous (1:51) - click on the Tiger link on the blog as John has addressed he and Tiger on a handful of occasions....

As for why no one complains about the demeanor of the 71st player in the world? Because that person is never seen on TV. And maybe 250 fans see him a week.

cd1515 said...

sorry reader John, the "Tiger swears because he's competitive" angle is weak, and wrong.

was Nicklaus not competitive?

Gunnar said...

Mr X, that is a great comparison. I do really respect how Phil plays the game, he plays to win. And sometimes, like at Winged Foot, he plays to win, but crashes miserably. Layup, prevent defense, etc just isn't in his make up.

Dan Jenkins has a very funny twitter feed from the Masters, just a bunch of really funny one liners. He had one Saturday about YE Yang that I thought would get him in a bit of trouble, but was funny. Mr Jenkins has been rightly critical of Tiger Woods.

Tiger with Peter Kostis was odd. He told us on multiple occasions that he was going to change his on-course behavior, and he didn't. The guy wants to control the media, bully the media, control his message...but ultimately, he is a man who cannot control his own behavior.

Thankfully, we do not have to hear Jim Nance say "A tradition, unlike any other" for another 10 months. Tiger may be a great golfer, but he is not as cool as Arnie and Freddie, or as classy as Jack, Gary, Phil and Ernie. Jesper said it best in November, "He's just not as good a guy as we thought he was".

cmonman said...

Agreed. Jesper's comments spot on.
Those looking for more tiger-freindly media can find PLENTY of that going around as well. Forgiving tarnished stars and rationalizing their behavior is part of what we do best in society these days..
How many times are we going to here the Wilbon defense - why does anyone care.. it's not a big deal.. everybody at the top of the sports world is compared to Gandhi, starts a family, then gets caught sexting up a couple dozen sleaz-bags...
OR the 'just focus on golf' defense which works better without Nike/Tiger ad actually attempting to somehow use the whole sorted mess as a selling tool (w/ EW voice-over??)...?
AND please drop the "competitiveness" defense for the whiny outburst. Is it too much to ask the greatest golfer of all time to act like a professional golfer when playing golf!?
I love watching TW play golf, but I'm happy to read a little bit of tough criticism every now and then. It balances out all the gushing..
I guess I like the idea that his behavior would remain "questionable" for sometime and he would earn more forgiveness and respect over time...

cmonman said...

67-67 at modern Augusta on the most watched if not the most entertaining masters weekend in history.. wow - a great deal of redemption to offset some of those painful Mickelson moments.

Tom Watson is simply amazing!

jason said...

Thanks John for bringing some edge to the overly bland Golf Channel shows during The Masters. Your comments after the self absorbed Nick Faldo, who for the nineteenth time referred to Tiger's plight, were something we all were hoping someone would mention. I also loved the sunglasses Tiger wore to ignore any eye contact which maybe he should of continued waering during the interview where he looked as if he would pimp slap Peter Costas. His behavior on and off the course wont change and I smell a Vegas trip anyday now.

EddieTorial said...

Tiger Woods' language is tame compared to John Calipari and most other college basketball coaches -- and these are supposed role models and "teachers"-- ha! Let's mike-up these foul-mouthed dudes and then compare their behavior to Tiger's! Give me a break!

Anonymous said...

re: Tim - "click on the Tiger link on the blog as John has addressed he and Tiger on a handful of occasions...."....If you noticed, my question to John was "could you please be honest and tell us just what EXACTLY Tiger did to you". I've read/heard the various "reasons" John has given on his blog and radio shows as to why he doesn't get along with Tiger and my point is there are other golfers that do exactly what Tiger does or whatever it is he has a problem with Tiger doing. He's not being honest with himself and his readers.

"As for why no one complains about the demeanor of the 71st player in the world? Because that person is never seen on TV. And maybe 250 fans see him a week..." So the actual issue isn't with the cursing but the fact that he's the most viewed?? That's hypocritical.

Tim said...

So, you don’t believe Feinstein’s reasons and therefore you ask for them again? Seems sort of needlessly repetitive if you’re not going to believe the answer, which we all certainly can analyze on our own…..I was actually just trying to help you out by pointing where you could get the stated reasons.

And yep it would be hypocritical if someone said it was OK for the 71st player in the world to act in a manner you don’t think the best in the world should, but that isn’t the case (at least from what I can tell). The best in the world have more eyes on them, and whether you buy into the ‘role model’ theory or not, there is no doubt people emulate them more. Therefore, and this is just a guess, that is why folks in the media point out what they do about the best, and not the players no one recognizes or focuses on. It’s a big leap to say it’s hypocritical, which makes a leap that says they are OK with different actions by different level of players.

Chauncy said...

I still get choked up when I see replays of that Mickelson hug. Imagine how it feels to "work for the family". Phil = anti-Tiger.

Chauncy said...

I still get choked up when I see replays of that Mickelson hug. Imagine what it would be like to "win for the family". Phil = anti-Tiger.

Anonymous said...

re: Tim - Yes, I don't believe the reasons Feinstein gave and that's why I asked for him to be honest and give the real reasons...just like if you felt someone was lying to you, you could either chose to believe that person or not...your choice. You believe him, I certainly don't because his reasons don't hold water.

Dude, it is hypocritical. So now, the issue is the number of eyes that are on a player simply because he's the best in the world? He's an athlete/competitor first and that's what athletes do...they curse up a storm. Frankly, I don't even know why Tiger made the statement that he would try to change. He shouldn't...that's why he's that good...it's a part of him...take it or leave it. You don't like it, change the channel and watch a kiddie show. He's a grown man playing a man's game.

Mac B From Tennessee said...

re:Eddie,
I can't defend basketball coaches behavior but I want to point out specifically why this behavior is not acceptable on the golf course. Golf is a sport of self discipline and respect for yourself, your equipment, your opponents, & the game. Using profanity and throwing your rackets demonstrates none of that. I have always been taught that behavior is not OK whether you are are playing by yourself at dusk or as a professional on the largest stage in the country.

Mac B From Tennessee said...

Throwing your clubs isn't ok either ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous; Re: Tim...

You're never going to believe John's reasons (that's your choice, fine) so why ask for them?

On the cursing front you state... "Frankly, I don't even know why Tiger made the statement that he would try to change." But he did make the statement, that's the point. Tiger put it out there and then couldn't hold up to it... now to get mad when someone mentions it is amusing. If he hadn't made the statement, I don't think we'd be talking about it.

Everyone's trying to figure out what's real and not real with the "new Tiger" I don't care... and most of us will never know. We only see what's shown on TV... and we've all learned that that's not always real. Like we're now being told what a great family man Phil is (and I'm not saying he's not) but to show me his picture hugging his wife and kids and they're crying and what a great moment and all that... I heard the exact same gushing in the past as I saw Tiger hug his wife and kids after winning. So who knows... not us... not 100% for sure.

Still love the blog, John. Thanks for writing it.

--Egan

Anonymous said...

re:Egan - Of course I'm never going to believe John's reasons because I know they are false. When his own colleague (Wilbon) called him out on the real reason why he dislikes Tiger, I then knew why. I just want to hear John admit it, though I doubt he will. He'll keep giving all these phony reasons that Tiger doesn't sign enough autographs (like he's the only one), Tiger curses, etc. My whole point is the reasons he always gives are not only specific to Tiger. We can all pick out at least a dozen other golfers that do the same thing he does. Yes, he's the best but is that really why it's ok for other golfers to do those things but not ok for Tiger?

Yes, he made the statement that he would try to change and for that I believe he deserves to be ripped because he shouldn't even have said it in the first place. That's part of who he is...he can't change that overnight. However, I'm not mad that Feinstein mentioned it now...I'm amused that Feinstein has been ripping Tiger about this as far back as 2004 or 2005 (or even before). I do recall an article he wrote for the Washington Post blasting Tiger for cursing....that's the problem I have with Feinstein...who is he to tell a grown man when to curse and not to curse?? Doesn't he curse himself?

As for Phil, I agree with you. We should simply enjoy the great talents these individuals have on the golf course (or whatever sport the play) and stop trying to make them out to be saints and role-models. Worry about your own skeletons...we all have them in our closets.

Tim said...

Anonymous - hey, I think Wilbon is one of the best as well, but I take his opinions with a grain of salt like all the others (King, Reilly, Simmons, etc) -- Wilbon is notoriously one of the biggest Jock Sniffers in the business. He loves the celebrity aspect of his job, loves being on speed dial of the athletes, and being 'one of them.' I don't blame him for liking those things, but like all media members, it does slight his opinion of others and in this case taking a cheap shot at Feinstein (though I know you don't believe Feinstein's description he wrote of that minor friend dustup) on his view of Tiger.

I still don't understand where you say anyone, or maybe you are talking about Feinstein, says its not OK for Tiger to do those things but OK for others to do them. If you find that, I'd love to read it. I just think the media points out the big boys and don't do a Santa Clause list because, well, no one wants to read about it.

Anonymous said...

re:Tim - You make a valid point about taking Wilbon's words with a grain of salt but the same can be said for Feinstein. Wilbon is friendly with the likes of Jordan, Barkley and Woods. On the other hand, Feinstein is friendly with the likes of Mike K (Duke's coach), Rocco Mediate and Gary Williams. You will be hard pressed to find Wilbon criticizing his guys and you'll also be hard pressed to find Feinstein criticize his guys. I understand that. The issue I have with Feinstein and where I believe Wilbon has been quite consistent is that Feinstein is ripping Tiger really hard on his personal issues while Wilbon has repeatedly said that athletes' personal lives are none of our business. It just seemed to me that this finally gave John an excuse to rip Tiger a new one over and over. Believe me, John has been ripping Tiger for years...enough to know that there's something personal there. Wilbon isn't the only one to say so...John Hawkins from the golf channel also mentioned that Feinstein does not have a good relationship with Tiger so we have to take his words against Tiger with a grain of salt.

I didn't say that John or any other Tiger critic said it was ok to do those things but not ok for Tiger. My point is, I don't see them ripping others the same way they rip Tiger for cursing, throwing golf clubs or having affairs. Tiger isn't the only one to do any of the above three....we certainly all know that. The divorce rate in this country is hovering around 50-60%...and that's not even counting those that make it through infidelities.

Vince Spence said...

It doesn't take a genius to see John has a deep personal problem with Tiger. Every single thing I can recall him writing contains a 'shot' at Woods.