June 19, 2011
All weekend, Shane Bacon will be out at Congressional, thanks to the fine people at Lexus (buy a Lexus ... and buy Jay one as well!). He will be reporting from the course (on crutches), so check back on both Saturday and Sunday.
BETHESDA, Md. -- Nothing about crutches is easy. They're not supposed to be easy. God gave us two legs, two arms, and they all serve purposes each moment (at golf tournaments, the legs are for walking, the arms are for beers and sodas).
But getting around Congressional Country Club this week was especially difficult. Not because of the hills or the thick rough that eats up the rubbery ends of those metal support systems, but because if you wanted to see the only man that mattered, you better be ready to fight. Pushing. Shoving. It was all part of the Rory McIlroy show, but I figured getting to the 10th hole was a must as he was completing one of the few victory laps that are done during an actual sporting event.
Truth be told, Rory had wrapped up the golf tournament Saturday evening. He put the finishing touches on a round that put enough distance between him and the field that unless Lee Westwood's caddie went "Happy Gilmore" on him with a volkswagon, the 22-year-old phenom was going to win.
But it was the way he did it on Sunday that made it special. As I took my seat to watch McIlroy play the 10th hole, the controversial par-3 that some said should never start a U.S. Open round, the announcer in my earpiece gave options of bailouts. He said that the bunker short on the right wasn't a bad spot to miss it, given the fact that the pin had been put in the small bowl on the right side of the green, allowing any shot short to roll back but giving a new meaning to "tough two-putt" to any ball deep on that green.
If I had been in the booth that moment, I would have laughed at the thought of a bailout with this kid. Have you been watching him this week? His bailout is eight feet.
So Rory stood over his 7-iron and made a heroic swing seconds after Y.E. Yang had hit as impressive a golf shot as we'd seen all day. McIlroy's iron shot should have landed a little deep on that green, because water guards short and the last thing he needed was penalty shots at this juncture. He should have hit it short. But why would he?
This is a 22-year-old man that was built for stardom on the golf course. His dad realized it at a young age and busted his butt to make a life for his kiddo so he could get the experience he needed. Phil Mickelson has seen it up close and personal, both at Quail Hollow a year ago when Rory closed with a 62 to win his first PGA Tour event and in the first two rounds of Congressional, when all he could do was sit back and clap as McIlroy exploited a U.S. Open course like he was a nasty attorney.
The "swagger" he talked about throughout the week was never more apparent than on that swing, on that hole, when the ball floated through the air, landed on the upslope of the hill just past the pin, and started rolling back. Everyone in the crowd stood up, but nobody really thought it would disappear.
"David Toms be damned," I thought, as the ball put on the breaks and started in reverse.
It rolled, and the crowd moaned. It kept rolling back and the cheers erupted. It was breaking towards the hole and for a moment it seemed destiny was taking over, and one of the rarest of rare shots was about to complete one of the rarest of rare feats.
As you know now, the ball stopped a few inches short of the cup and McIlroy had to "settle" for a birdie he didn't need to make.
He kept on the rest of the round hitting the smart shots and cashing in at the right times. But that 10th hole, with that pin, over that lake, topped off with that shot was exactly the week McIlroy had.
This golf course isn't that easy, but Rory never stopped trying to prove that theory wrong. Some moments seem bigger than you. I think everyone at Congressional on Sunday is nodding their head in agreement.