Google+ Badge

Monday, August 11, 2014

On Champions and Championships

Bonnie Bell,
2014 Star Fort Ladies Golf Association Champion
I had a heavy dose of championship play on Sunday and I got to take a good look at some champions and near-champions as well.  First I played my own Sunday round at the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association annual championship and shared a celebratory meal with the field of contenders, then rushed home to watch what I assumed would be Inbee Park and Suzann Pettersen battle to the finish of the Meijer LPGA Classic.

I'd just settled in and adjusted to the fact that Pettersen had dropped back and there was a rookie in the mix at the Meijer --  Mirim Lee was playing at the top of the board alongside golf's Serene Queen -- when my Facebook chat went wild.

Matt Hooper, St Andrews Golf Magazine editor and Les Bailey, ProGolfNow editor, were yelling at me:
You're missing a classic . . . this is the matchup we've waited for . . . and no Tiger!
They were, of course, referring to the PGA Championship final round at Valhalla.

Mirim Lee, 2014 Meijer LPGA Classic Champion
What to do? Answer the call of the two editors I write for and abandon the final two holes of the Meijer Classic, with Inbee Park and Mirim Lee going shot-for-shot and heading for a playoff?  I wished for a split screen that I didn't have.

Mirim Lee had been smiling and shooting her way up the leaderboard for three days and I didn't want to miss watching her smile some more as she outplayed Inbee Park, which I intuitively believed she would.

The PGA Championship had teed off late, so I gambled that I could watch Park and Lee finish up their battle -- the rookie Lee notched her first LPGA victory on the 2nd hole of the playoff -- and still get in on the last of the boys' battle.

And what a battle it was!  Quite simply, the final holes of the Sunday round at the PGA Championship left me breathless!  I'll leave the technical analysis of that round to others.  It's the behavior of the champions that's engaged my interest.

Those moments of competition seem to bring out the best -- and the worst -- in human behavior.   I confess that I didn't miss the prowling, snarling, petulant Tiger at Valhalla.  I'd much rather watch Jason Day wade barefoot into the marshy, knee-high grass, execute an impossible shot, and come out grinning.  I'd rather watch Lefty shake his head and smile when he mis-hits a chip, and I'd rather enjoy Ricky Fowler's serene and unbelievably gutsy par save from the wrong fairway than suffer through the surly, stomping, fist-pumping Tiger taking a victory lap around yet another green after yet another well-fired putt.

Gerry & Rory McIlroy sharing that
victorious moment
In an ongoing display of world-class sportsmanship Mickelson and Fowler, paired and giving the game every bit of dazzling stroke play in their bag in their attempt to beat each other and McIlroy, congratulated one another on their birdies.  If this is the game of golf without Tiger that's so worried the commentators, I say worry no more!

I ached for Rory McIlroy during his meltdown at the 2011 Masters Championship, but I also fell deeply in love with the young, 21-year old man who finished that disastrous back nine at Augusta National with composed dignity.  And yesterday evening, with the sun already set, I utterly enjoyed his victory at Valhalla because he played his round, again, with the same composed dignity and the same grit and focused determination I'd seen three years ago.

Whether the championship purse is $1.8 million, as it was Sunday for McIlroy, or $225K, as it was for LPGA rookie Mirim Leee when she played to a one-shot victory over Inbee Park on the 74th hole at the Meijer Classic, or a year's preferred parking, as it was for Bonnie Bell, the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association 2014 champion, is unimportant.

Championship demeanor isn't and shouldn't be shaped by the size of the purse.

Mirim Lee put on an impressive demonstration of stroke play herself and as she sent each of those shots straight and true toward her target she glowed with pleasure.  I was fortunate to have been paired with Bonnie during Saturday's first round at the club championship.  Bonnie doesn't smile as readily as Mirim Lee during her round, and she doesn't swagger down the fairway like Rory after she's hit it pure, but she chuckles ever so softly when her ball drops.  On Saturday she also chuckled for my ball drops.

Golf's an unusual game  All of us lose more rounds than we win.  It's the nature of the game.  Sunday's trio of champions were exceptionally gracious in their moments of victory.