There are more important things than golf, though tell that to a Republican golfer. Another U.S. Open ended memorably yesterday, assuring itself a sturdier place in the history books than, say, a former ex-president laying it on thick and smarmy on last night’s 60 Minutes. (Not that I’m so lacking in self-respect that I actually watched.)
Two things stood out about the Phil Mickelson-Retief Goosen finale. One was Mickelson’s perpetual smile. Apparently he felt he owed it to the adoring and roaring gallery that responded to his every swing or step up a fairway with a standing ovation. So like the dutiful favorite son he’s become, he tried to come across as nice as possible. He smiled, he waved, he aw-shucked, then stretched the boyish smile even wider. But c’mon, is it normal for a human being to maintain a smile for or five solid hours? (I think he was already smiling at the practice range.)
Big time sport is no laughing matter. Magic Johnson used to smile at his opponents, yes, but it was the smile of a deadly competitor. As it turned out, Mickelson isn’t as deadly competitive as he thought he’d become. He played brilliantly only to revert to his pre-Masters form to wipe himself out on the 17th hole. Later he blamed those two missed putts on the wind. All the while that smile was still stuck to his face. Is there a coach out there who might help him adjust it?
So what was the second thing that stood out? Naturally, the absence of anything resembling a smile on the visage of Retief Goosen. One of NBC’s hopeless yappers commented at one point that Goosen would make a great poker player. Well, duh. Afterward the South African was asked if he’d heard all the cheering directed at Mickelson. He acknowledged he had. He could have added that while it was understandable that Americans favored their own, the fans were polite in that he never detected any cheering against him. This is golf, after all.
Besides, Goosen was in a groove only serious concentration can produce. I don’t recall Tiger Woods ever sinking so many crucial single putts, which have always been his bread-and-butter in the majors. Even after Mickelson took a late lead Goosen one-putted his way back.
Somewhere I read that the new Mickelson had taken to sinking 100 consecutive three-foot putts in practice before signing off. Perhaps next year he’ll extend that routine to five-footers. Plus one other thing — save the smiling for the 19th hole. The last thing America needs is a puppy dog as its sports hero.
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