Monday, June 20, 2011
The Fun of a First Major
Thanks to the great people at Lexus (hey, go buy a Lexus ... heck, buy two!) for the entire weekend, we will be at out Congressional posting and tweeting from the U.S. Open. Swing by and check out what we have to offer and follow us on Twitter at @shanebacon.
I don’t think I’d ever say covering my first major championship was “fun.” It was exciting. Thrilling. History-making. Similar to Rick Reilly’s first assignment for Sports Illustrated when he had the 1986 Masters handed to him in a silver platter, getting the brilliance of Rory McIlroy and the history he made at Congressional makes writing easy, but it sure doesn’t make things easy. Things are tough. Majors are tough.
Maybe it’s because all the luminaries are there. The people you want to be are sitting on a computer trying to come up with the same hilarious analogy you are, or suggesting the same punny headline that popped in your head. If Twitter has made us realize anything, it’s there are a ton of funny people out there that will never be discovered, and working a huge tournament like the U.S. Open makes you realize that there is grip of writers all pounding away for paychecks, posting for popularity.
McIlroy made it fun though. The kid is great. His demeanor on the golf course was miles more confident than what he showed at Augusta National just a couple of months ago, and his talent is unquestionable. He made a golf course that his fellow countryman and best buddy said might not yield an under-par winner look like the Bob Hope Classic from the member’s tees, but for some (and according to ratings, those “some” are the hardcore golf fans that love history and don’t care that a certain someone isn’t in the field), it’s beautiful to see someone come into their own.
To me, McIlroy winning that major championship was like a parent watching his troubled kid finally walk across that high school graduation stage. Diploma in hand, a smile that a broken smart phone couldn’t kill, and knowledge that he was able to finally accomplish something, the kid looks out and sees his proud father, tearing up, understanding that pride had a secret compartment that he luckily just found. McIlroy was that golfer. He has made mistakes on the golf course, and failed in historic fashion, but at just 22, you knew he could bounce back because everyone in the game of golf has told us he’s the “next big thing.”
I’ve always been scared to pin people “next” (or neXt as ESPN the Mag used to say), because we never really know. We thought Ty Tryon was next years ago, and we labeled Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose the successor to Tiger when they showed signs in majors at young ages. But to be next, you have to actually complete something, and to me, that’s what Rory did.
He had a goal, he set out to prove it, and he did, in fantastic fashion.
Not a lot of athletes are able to accomplish what Rory did. I can’t help but think back to the most controversial athlete in sports right now, LeBron James, and what he could have proved if the Miami Heat had been able to take down the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. People wouldn’t have questioned their decision or LeBron’s clutchness anymore. “Greatness courts failure, Romeo,” is a fantastic line from “Tin Cup,” but to do it, you have, in Roy McAvoy parlance, be great. LeBron couldn’t find that gear. McIlroy could.
Much will be said about his play over the next few days. He will be compared to everybody that has ever done anything good in golf. Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus, and of course, Woods. We will see columns (as we already have) about Tiger’s run at Nicklaus’ 18 majors, a notion that is as ludicrous as it is ignorant. McIlroy now has as many majors as Michael Campbell and Steve Jones, and is one back of John Daly and Retief Goosen, so predicting his major count is as premature as some of McIlroy’s chin pubs. He will be great, yes, but we have no idea how great. That’s why this is so much fun. It allows us the ability to wonder without predictions. We can guess at his future but we have no idea. Who knows when the next Escalade situation will change the game of golf?
I loved being at Congressional for the buzz and the cheers. I loved seeing fans high five when McIlroy’s shot into the 10th hole on Sunday nearly went in for an ace. I loved seeing fathers with their sons and daughters on their day, soaking in a tournament that people hope to get to once in their life. I loved that CEOs and presidents of companies were enjoying cocktails and nachos and didn’t really care that their Blackberrys were somewhere in their car, buzzing away as the birds chirped around those beautiful 18 holes.
And I didn’t even care that my left foot has been in this frustrating walking boot. Like sometimes gives you adversity in hopes you can overcome it, and giving the fact that my crutches didn’t exactly pave my way to the next hole, I had to find other ways to report and find clips. I sat in the grandstands. I talked to fans. I watched in the Lexus tent with people that have shot their age and fans that couldn’t pick out a 5-iron in a box of Louisville Sluggers. And most of all, I got to experience the U.S. Open with my wonderful sister, who has spent as many times behind a golf ball as I have at world number one, but felt the electricity and watched as much golf as possible.
Her birthday was Friday, and heading out to her first ever professional golf event, you could see that she was just as happy to be there as I was.
I hope I get to go to more majors over the next few years. Check out this event or fly to this course and really see what the crowds are feeling. I loved standing next to the college boys on Saturday that started the “Let’s go, Ro-ry!” chant, only to have the 22-year-old smile sheepishly at the boys his same age as he charted up the 15th fairway, on his way to history.
The chants will continue. We just don’t know when.