When I was a boy I used to wonder why my father wasted so much time watching golf on television. Could anything be more boring? He played the game, but he got a kick out of watching Jack and Arnie and Lee when the major tournaments were televised. I would watch with him for a few minutes and then leave to do something active myself. But he would remain glued to the set, nibbling on licorice bits or something chocolate, marveling at how good these pros were. Because golf is such a frustrating game, I wondered even more why he would want to watch these guys. Didn’t it frustrate him to see them sink 40 foot putts or reach the green in regulation? I would sometimes play golf with my father, and he always had advice, which of course I never listened to. If he couldn’t do it, how could he teach it?
The other day I watched the 2013 Players tournament. I started watching it on a Thursday, continued to watch it on Friday, and watched it through the weekend. I brought some books down so I could read while I watched, but I didn’t open them. I didn’t call anybody to talk about it because I only know a few people who play the game, and I didn’t care what they had to think. I watched it because it was so damn engrossing. Especially this course, where there’s so much water and sand to get a player into trouble. Tiger had already won three tournaments this year and always had trouble at Sawgrass. In fact, he only won the Players once, and that was ten years ago. But Tiger’s a story onto himself and I root for him because, in spite of his personal flaws, he is one of the greatest golfers who ever played the game, and I’m rooting for him because I want to have lived in the time when THE greatest golfer played. I used to root for Phil Mickelson because he’s a lefty, as my dad was, and because he’s such a nice guy. And I liked Sergio Garcia because I remember when he was starting out and hit an incredible shot from behind a tree and ran fifty yards down the fairway after he hit it to follow the shot. That was such great enthusiasm. But Tiger is in a class by himself. He doesn’t give anything away in interviews, he seems like a cold fish, and we know he doesn’t treat woman very well. But he has a near perfect swing, he’s always working to improve, and he wants it more than anybody else. He just WANTS it.
So when Tiger wound up playing with Sergio on Saturday, both men tied for the lead on the third day, it was engrossing. Especially since Tiger has always beaten Sergio (except when they once played a match game for TV and Sergio won and jumped up and down as if he had won a Major), and Sergio does not like Tiger–and is outspoken about it. And sure enough, on the 4th or 5th hole, Sergio hit his ball to the right of the fairway and Tiger hit his in the rough to the left. The crowd was around Tiger. Sergio was to hit first. And just when he was ready to swing, Tiger, 50 yards away, pulled a 5-wood from his bag. Sergio went to swing. The crowd made noise at Tiger’s surprising club selection. Sergio hit a terrible shot and then looked over towards Tiger’s gallery, annoyed. Later he would blame this poor shot on the crowd noise, which might have cost him two strokes. He said Tiger was wrong to have pulled his club when he did. Tiger said he was told Sergio had swung already. But the die was cast. These two now really didn’t like each other, and they were playing together, and it was good drama for us back home watching it. Wish my dad could have seen it.
The next day there was more drama, because Sergio had talked about the fact that he and Tiger weren’t very fond of each other, and Tiger tried to maintain his coolness. “I’m tied for the lead,” he said. And that’s all he cared about. After 16 holes on this last day it looked like it was going to come down to Tiger and Sergio. And then Sergio went to the infamous 17th hole and hit two shots into the water. And hit another in the water on 18. He went from being 13 under and tied with Tiger to 7 under and not even on the first leader board. Tiger, being Tiger, won.
There were two NBA basketball playoffs over the weekend, some hockey playoffs, and Mommie Dearest was played over and over again on TNT. Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford is magnificent. But nothing compared to the Players championship. Nothing was as riveting as watching Tiger and Sergio. So, Dad, wherever you are, I’m sorry for snubbing my nose at you when you watched Arnie and Jack and Lee. Golf isn’t boring. It’s like baseball. It’s slow, and plodding, and selective. And when some of these pros are playing, it can be unforgettable.