No better way to prepare us for this week’s U.S. Open golf championship than for Harrison Frazar to bag his first win in 355 tries, at the tender age of 39. After all, in a golf year with no direction or sense – Who wants to be No. 1? Who the heck are these guys winning on the PGA Tour? Who guessed Tiger Woods would be this absent and ineffective? President Obama is playing a round with Speaker of the House John Boehner? Will there be blood? – we might as well welcome another unlikely story to the front burner.
Make no mistake, Frazar’s story is a great one. He penned a first-person column in Sports Illustrated in March, an open-book read into the life of a pro golfer: how much he missed his family, how much his body ached, how much he wanted to win but never could, how much he questioned his mental state in a game that he alternately loved but could not tame. Frazar essentially said in the piece, "All I want is one win, for my kids, for my wife, for my coach, for my friends, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it, but I’ll give it another shot in 2011."
File that under the "Yeah, Right" chapter of guys saying all they need is one win to make their careers complete. It ain’t that easy, after all.
Next thing you know, Frazar is the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic champion in Memphis after holding off Sweden’s Robert Karlsson in a playoff, and it’s likely he’s the most deeply satisfied Fed Ex St. Jude Classic champion of all time, all things considered. There were all sorts of gooey good vibes surrounding Frazar’s win: how his kids had always wondered why he never owned a trophy, how a conversation with an 8-year-old Little Leaguer last week about never winning a trophy rankled his son, how he felt that speaking his mind about doubts and fears in the S.I. piece almost liberated him to play better golf.
And then, the angst and agita. Frazar blew a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole by tugging his approach left into the water. Frazar missed a 17-footer for the win on the first playoff hole. He had to sweat out Karlsson’s 18-footer for the win on the second playoff hole, and finally had to wait out Karlsson’s nine footer – he missed! – to extend the playoff.
"It’s pretty cool," Frazar said to CBS.
Call it a perfect entrée to the national championship at Congressional. After all, who are you taking to win this thing? Go ahead. Make a pick. You’re throwing darts, is what you’re doing.
The prediction game is ludicrous in today’s golf landscape, with Phil Mickelson aging and Tiger gone and the Lee Westwood-Luke Donald-Martin Kaymer threesome at Congressional totaling one major championship among them.
Just for fun: Anybody remember the runner-up to McDowell last year at Pebble? Yep, just one stroke back of McDowell – France’s Gregory Havret, just as you figured.
It's upside down and unpredictable and frustrating and, in some ways, delightfully wide open. Harrison Frazar reminded us as much Sunday in Memphis. It’s golf. Go figure.
Scorecard of the week
• 67-66-66-68 – 21-under 267, Yani Tseng, winner, LPGA State Farm Classic, Panther Creek C.C., Springfield, Ill.
Any question as to the most dominant player in the world today? Take a bow, Yani Tseng. The State Farm Classic, a three-stroke victory over Cristie Kerr, is Tseng’s fifth win of 2011. In terms of monopolizing a tour, she’s it. On the men’s tours, only Donald, Charl Scwhartzel and Mark Wilson have more than one win in 2011, with two each.
Yes, that was Tseng peeling out in the parking lot in her courtesy car with the bumper sticker: TELL ME HOW MY WINS TASTE.
Granted, one of Schwartzel's wins resulted in your basic green jacket immortality, but still.
In the post-Annika, post-Lorena world, the women have been searching for "The One," and right now, it looks like Yani Tseng, all of 22 years old, is that one.
That said, I'm not so sure she's approaching household status in the women's game. In fact, Yani Tseng was recently in her own household, when a family member stopped her and said: "Excuse me, who are you again?"
I kid, I kid. But in an attempt to find something buzz-worthy about Tseng, I looked up her Twitter account. She has one, which is a start. And she has over 5,000 followers, which is a start. Problem is, she last tweeted, Feb. 8, 2010.
Let’s just say she’s due for a tweet.
Tseng is a happy-go-lucky personality who just needs to keep piling up win after win to break through into the sports fan consciousness. Unfortunately for women’s golf, I’m talking a LOT of wins. It’s that easy, kid: Just go win 10 more, Yani!
Mulligan of the week
• After 354 starts without a win, and after so openly laying bare his hopes, fears, dreams, frustrations in print, everything pointed to Frazar holding that one-stroke lead on the 72nd hole. He’d make par, celebrate in front of the grandstand and cheering fans, and get that sweet feeling of victory on the 72nd green, so long awaited.
Except, this is golf.
So, from the middle of the fairway on No. 18, with that one-shot lead, Frazar needed to only hit his mid-iron to the fat of the green, two-putt and crumble into a weeping heap of joy.
That is, until he came over his golf ball, yanked his approach left and … ker-splash! … got wet.
Frazar would make bogey after the water ball, go to a playoff with Karlsson and have to grind out three more holes of agony before the triumph.
So, in the interest of tidy wins, and neat storylines, let’s go back out to that 18th fairway, tell Frazar he only needs to find the fat of the green with that approach and … give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• "… oh, it’s not good. We’ve got trees, we’ve got everything. Stay tuned. This ought to be fun." – Gary McCord, CBS, dissecting Robert Karlsson’s snap hook on the 71st hole in Memphis with the tournament on the line.
As if sensing a vacuum of air time, Gary McCord always seems to rush in whenever Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo take the week off. His usual quick delivery seems to pick up a beat, even. Add in the fact that David Feherty was off, too, and it was McCord-Mania.
The pinch-hitting duo of Bill Macatee and Ian Baker-Finch were powerless to stop McCord, and truth told, it was OK. Letting McCord out of the cage to stretch his hammies a few times a year, there are worse things.
Besides, he'd better get his hacks in while he can. CBS steps aside for NBC's coverage of the U.S. Open this week, which means its Miller-palooza. Gentlemen, start your "choke"-meters.
Where do we go from here?
• On to Congressional for the second major of the year, meaning the slow death of grinding for pars on Formica greens, accompanied by the unsightly sweat stains of a golfer outdoors in the swamps of Washington, D.C. Nice! As I was saying earlier in the column, only a fool would have an idea who might contend.
Wait. Did somebody call out for a fool? Forthwith, my top five to jive:
5. Kyung Tae-Kim: Fits right into the "Whoa, I had no idea!" mold. Tied-44th at Masters this year, and is ranked 34th in the world. You heard it here first, friends.
4. Matt Kuchar: 13 years after Olympic Club as an amateur, the kid is "all growns up," as Vince Vaughn’s Trent says in "Swingers."
3. Phil Mickelson: For old time's sake.
2. Dustin Johnson: It's not a major without a little DJ Heartbreak.
1. Luke Donald: Such a boring pick – highly ranked, playing well, plays U.S. Open style golf … everything points to Donald as The Guy. Which, of course, means he won't be.