Mark Twain once referred to golf as a good walk spoiled. But poor Mark didn’t have access to titanium woods with graphite shafts, golf courses with lawnmowers, or yesterday’s magical playoff between Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods for the 108th U.S. Open Championship.
Pretty much every superlative has been used in the past 24 hours to describe the event. Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune made the predictable comparison to Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the original Rocky (I only say it’s predictable because that was my original idea for this post yesterday). It is an apt allusion — as some people don’t remember, Rocky didn’t beat Apollo in the first film. Just taking him the distance was an upset in itself, and it’s what made Rocky a fan favorite — just like Rocco.
Pat Forde, ESPN.com’s resident college basketball, college football, horse racing and now golf go-to guy (at this rate I will be stunned if Pat does not have an Olympic badminton column) has deemed it the greatest U.S. Open of all time.
I’ll have to disagree with Pat on that measure, but then again neither of us was alive for the 1913 U.S. Open, so I am willing to give him some leeway. (Short recap: 20-year-old amateur with 10-year-old caddy beats two heavily favored British pros in 18-hole playoff. Sport takes enamored nation by storm. Number of golfers in U.S. triples over next ten years. Story gets made into movie with Shia LaBoeuf 90 years later. He’s so dreamy).
Even Tiger got caught up in the moment, calling it his greatest victory. Fortunately the camera was focused on him and not Bob Costas’ pants, because you know Bob had to be getting a little excited after that quote. (The fact Bob is only 4-foot-8 played into his favor and made such a camera angle impossible).
But more than anything, the entire tournament served as a showcase for the sport of golf. Every wacky idiosyncrasy that inspires average duffers like myself pick up clubs — and sometimes throw them — seemed to be on display.
Remember Justin Hicks and Kevin Streelman? Those were the guys tied for first place after the first round. Hicks finished tied for 74th at +17. Streelman was slightly better, finishing 53rd at +11. But they had their 15 seconds of fame, at least, before golf taketh away.
Remember Phil Mickelson? Lefty was the favorite to take the title on his home course and was sort of lurking around the top of the leaderboard before blowing up in his patented fashion with a 9 in the third round on No. 13 (hey, I’ve done that before!)
Torrey Pines even made Tiger Woods look mortal at times, with his roller coaster experience including a 3-over par start to his first two holes in the fourth round. (I’ve done that before too. Only when I do it I go, “Hey, not a bad start.”)
As usual, there was also plenty of Tiger being Tiger, with no finer example than his clutch birdie putt to force Monday’s playoff.
And then there was the everyman hero himself, Rocco Mediate. Prior to this weekend, the only Rocco anyone had ever remembered from a golf course was dispatched by Rodney Dangerfield to help Judge Smails find his wallet at the end of Caddyshack.
But by the end of Monday afternoon, there’s no one that could forget the 45-year-old Italian-American son of a barber who needed to win a sectional qualifier just to make the U.S. Open standing toe-to-toe with the world’s greatest golfer for 91 holes. Whether it was his cheerful demeanor, the fact he wore a peace sign belt buckle on Sunday — bet those sell big in Texas — or the sheer unlikelihood of the entire package, it was impossible not to be glued to your set. (I did laugh when it was noted on my screen that “Days of Our Lives” would be airing at 3 p.m. Even an episode with a hermaphrodite clown cheating on his astronaut wife would not be able to match the real-life drama being presented).
After a while, though, the afterglow will die down for Rocco’s yeoman effort. And that’s a shame, as there is no trophy for afterglow.
So I would like to offer up this modest proposal to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger, since I know he’s reading this: make Rocco one of your selections for this year’s team. Tiger has always struggled in the alternate shot format. Why not pair him with a guy he clearly gets along with and seems to bring the best out of him?
Maybe what Rocco and Tiger gave golf was just lightning in a bottle. But I am willing to bet every golf fan would love to see the sequel at Valhalla this September.