Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oh, So Close

Middle-aged duffers everywhere groaned in dismay as Tom Watson's par putt slid away from the hole on number 18. He played so well for 71 holes. It would have been an amazing display of skill and sang froid for a golfer of any age. For most of the day, it was easy to forget that Watson was not just another top golfer in the mix, but a 59-year-old who by all rights and expectations shouldn't have made the cut, much less been atop the leaderboard. His steady play and spirit, including his recovery from bad holes, was inspirational. While younger golfers spun out of control in the rough (including Ross Fisher, who never recovered from a devasting quadruple bogey), Watson plodded on.

And all he needed to do was par the last hole. Just one more hole! But that's when your nerves get to you. Of course most golfers would hardly have been able to swing the club at all, much less produce such a fine drive as Watson did on 18, much less follow it up with an almost equally fine approach. And Watson did.

But then it slipped away. He couldn't get up and down. His final par putt was his poorest effort of the day. You could really see his tension and tentativeness.

After that, it was all over. Only Watson's shell showed up for the playoff. Finally, after bearing up under unimaginable pressure for 72 holes, he was physically and mentally spent. I'm sure he was replaying that par putt over and over again in his mind while his body went through the motions of making shots. He finished six back in a four-hole playoff. That wasn't the same player who played the first four rounds.

Oh, well. He came in second -- and who would have expected that four days ago? It's still an inspiration to older golfers everywhere. There might still be time for me to learn how to play.

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