Who needs Tiger, anyway?
In the last eight days in the golf world, we’ve seen the following:
• Sergio shock us all by channeling his clutch, 1999 self.
• Paul Goydos introduce the word “dirtbag” to the genteel golf world.
• Annika Sorenstam blindside us with a bizarre, Jim Brown-esque retirement.
• Lorena Ochoa break an endless, lengthy two-tournament drought without a win, thus staving off the “When will this bum ever win again?” talk.
• Ryuji Imada stare down a year-old, watery ghost on the 18th at TPC Sugarloaf, with a rare chance at redemption; and, finally …
• Kenny Perry follow an 81 on Sunday at Sawgrass with a screw-you kick off a tree into the water on a playoff hole at Sugarloaf on Sunday, Example No. 10,234,543 in golf history as to why golf gods are the meanest SOBs ever.
Other than that, not much going on in the golf universe.
Following on the old ad slogan, “Baseball Fever: Catch It!”, we can market our own: “Golf Karma: Go Figure!”
Starting with Annika, the only proper reaction is respect for her decision, and sadness at her departure. To say she’s already achieved enough to make an argument as the greatest woman ever to play is obvious; the only complaints would come from diehard fans of Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. That said, I’m not sure how many Babe Didrikson Zaharias fans have access to email, so I’ll proceed and wait for those Zaharias-inspired handwritten letters in licked-and-stamped envelopes to arrive at Yahoo! HQ.
The sadness comes in when one realizes that the next few years could have produced some Lorena v. Annika doozies at the major championships. At 37, Annika has another eight to 10 years left of quality golf in her, and she could have gone bare-knuckle with Li’l Lorena at U.S. Women’s Opens, and Kraft Nabiscos, and enhanced the profile of her sport.
So, why now? Ours is not to reason why, golf fan. Like the great running back Brown, or like Barry Sanders, or like Michael Jordan, the great ones are different from you and me. They move at their own pace, and we can’t question their motivations or drive. That’s why we watch, and they play.
We can, however, get hunches, and like the rustlings around the great Brett Favre, who is believed to be a primo candidate for an “un”-retirement, I think we can make a legitimate early line that Annika will find her way back to some important golf tournaments even after the calendar year of ’08. She’s too good and too young, right?
At least we can hope – although Annika might make the compelling argument that if she isn’t practicing furiously and isn’t ready to play unless she can win, she won’t be back. As it is, we have three more majors this year to watch Annika and Lorena tangle, starting at the LPGA Championship in about a couple of weeks. After that, it’s Lorena v. Paula and Morgan and Michelle – oh, wait. I forgot. Can’t mention Michelle Wie. She’s so 2004.
One is even tempted to say the LPGA, with Lorena’s wins and Annika’s retirement, is more interesting than the PGA Tour these days. Heck, Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo must think so – they played hooky for the stop at TPC Sugarloaf, figuring that if Tiger and Phil didn’t play the AT&T Classic, why should they? The “A” team’s absence lent a JV feel to the event, which was only saved by the bizarre – and highly entertaining – machinations of the Imada-Perry playoff.
Imada had to approach that playoff with equal parts dread and anxiety. After all, one year earlier, in a one-hole showdown with Zach Johnson at Sugarloaf, he roasted a 3-wood to the flagstick fronted by water and … watched … as it … flew … and flew … and … kerplunk! … got wet. Zach Johnson won, barely shook Imada’s hand, kissed the big cardboard check, then slipped on the green jacket he won a month earlier, and peeled out in the parking lot in his courtesy car convertible, leaving a patch of rubber behind with a “So long, sucker!” shout-out to Imada.
Well, not really. But it probably felt that way to Imada.
This time, the golf gods tapped Imada on the shoulder and said: “We have your back, kid.” They arranged it so Perry hit first from the fairway on No. 18. Perry, desperate to make the Ryder Cup team this fall so he can play in his native Kentucky, ripped a fairway wood that cleared the water hazard – and promptly smashed off of a Georgia pine behind the green.
Get this: It then kicked backward and raced – right into the water hazard. We’re talking serious hose job here. The golf gods sent him a text message, and the text message was: “Get bent.”
You could hear the plaintive wail in Perry, as the boom microphones picked up his Kentucky twang asking, with great futility, “Where is it? Where IS it?”
Uh, it’s in the water, Ken.
This made Imada’s job easy, and he laid up en route to victory. He left Sugarloaf thinking golf was a game of justice. Perry blew off the media room thinking golf is a game better suited for retirement. You could see the thought bubble above Perry’s head: “I may have to pull an Annika here.”
Crazy game, sports fans.
Scorecard of the week
• 73-72 – Missed Cut. Paul Goydos, AT&T Classic.
And just like that, there was no Long Beach State baseball hat on the weekend in Georgia.
Mulligan of the week
• Parker McLachlin seems like a nice lad. He is from Hawaii, and nobody can criticize anything about Hawaii. It’s not permitted in this column space. McLachlin even went to UCLA, which grants him “Most Favored Golfer” status in this column space.
But for the love of Mike, Parker, can you pull the trigger, kid?
On Sunday, McLachlin had played himself into contention with a birdie blitz reminiscent of a Bob Hope Classic, or the Vegas tour stop. He came to No. 18 and was in between clubs on his second shot. Should he muscle up and try to clear the water? Or should he lay up and try to make birdie from short range? And then there was the problem of the swirling wind.
Granted, some interesting decisions to make.
However, not interesting enough to take FIVE minutes to decide. McLachlin pulled a hybrid club, and waved it around meekly for a few minutes, before pulling a fairway wood, then waved it around meekly for a few minutes, before pulling an iron and waving it around meekly for a few minutes.
Get this: the crowd at Sugarloaf booed him. Booed – at a golf event!
I once heard the old saw that “work expands to time allotted." True that. Be swift and decisive young Parker. The golf fans of America will applaud you.
Somebody give that kid a mulligan …
Broadcast moment of the week
• Never thought I’d see the day, but Phil Mickelson is winning the media war.
His Crowne Plaza ad campaign is original and downright funny. Mickelson, so often crushed by the media, including me, for condescension, plays the straight man beautifully in the various ads, including the “Meeting of People Who Were Hit By Phil’s Golf Balls” and the “Meeting of People Who Look Like Phil." A little self-mockery goes a long way for Phil. Plus, his timing is excellent.
Madison Avenue has found the phit for Phil. I’m in. Well-done, Lefty.
Where do we go from here?
• On to Colonial, appropriately enough. The place where, in 2003, Annika carved her place in history, is the next PGA Tour stop. Get ready for an onslaught of “Colonial: A Half-Decade After Annika” feature stories. The media, of course, has time to kill until next week – when the rumor is, the Big Boy comes back to play the Memorial.