Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Nine Iron?

I believe that developing a proper mastery for watching a sport is a lot like learning a second language: the younger you are when you do it, the richer your understanding will be, which puts me at a decided disadvantage among golf fans, given that I watched my first golf tournament only six years ago while housebound, rehabbing an ankle that looked kinda like Jimmy Caan's ankle in "Misery" after Kathy Bates hobbled him. In fact, when my buddy the Deadhead called to browbeat me into watching the back nine at the Masters, I didn't know what the back nine was, though I didn't admit that to him. I thought it might be some sort of farming term. Or possibly a boy band along the lines of "N'Sync." (I've since learned that the back nine are the last nine holes of golf to be played in the final round. At least I hope I've got even that much right.)

At the start of that day, I was much more familiar with runways than fairways, but by evening, through the final round which included many calls to the Deadhead, I learned that a bogie was bad, a birdie was good and the importance of a "short game." And to my surprise, I kinda liked it. Not enough to play, because I would never spend even the price of a Starbuck's latte to walk on manicured lawns and curse, but watching golf in hi-def, the clarity of which can give me an allergy attack from the comfort of my sofa, is pretty entertaining. So, I learned enough to enjoy any major tournament on Sunday, but there still remained the problem of how to get truly engaged.

For me to really connect to a sport, I need to have a rooting interest and it's not so easy in golf as it with team sports. I have a highly refined ability to turn on a random, Division II college football game, make a split-second judgment about a team based on location or conference, the posture of the coach, or the color and design of the uniforms, and thus instantaneously, it will become very important to me that that team lose.

When I decided to make the leap to golf, the first task was to find some go-to guys. There were two no-brainers in Jim Furyk and Rocco Mediate. Both are both local guys, seem pretty decent and it doesn't hurt that Mediate looks just like my regular UPS driver. Who else? Mike Weir won the first Masters I watched, plus he's Canadian and I love all Canadians, so I decided to root for him.

Of course, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson loom over all things golf and, despite the fact that both are fun to watch, I felt like I had to pick sides a'la the Hatfields and McCoys.

I chose Phil. I had a soft spot for that squirrelly lefty the moment I discovered that he always lost major tourneys, usually in stupdendously dramatic fashion. That really appealed to me -- the gifted guy who couldn't seem to get out of his own way -- so I got on the Mickelson bandwagon. Of course, he went out and won the Masters in 2004, which was great for him, but not so much for me, because a little of his lovable loser sheen was buffed off. Thankfully, Mickelson returned to form by imploding in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot (here for more info for other golf neophytes.) Phil himself said of that performance, "I'm such an idiot," and I never loved him more. It was, as baseball fans might say about a certain juiced slugger, just Phil being Phil.

To fully connect, though, I needed a villain, the golf equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys. I have this pilot friend who once flew Vijay Singh on a privately chartered flight. He said Vijay was a total dork, only substitute the middle two letters with two other letters so that you get the nickname for Richard, and with that, I had my first villain. But Singh has faded and heading into this year's golf season, I was in need of a new, proper villain. John Daly's a train wreck, but despite his Kenny Chesney wannabe fans, he's no Charlie Weis, no Bill Belichick, no A-Rod. I needed a real heel, someone who combined the worst traits of Mike Vrabel, Roger Clemens and Ohio State football fans.

And then, as though the golf gods answered this humble supplicant's plea, the pride of South Africa arrived to save the day. Thank you, Rory Sabatini.

Thanks for Rory's stupid face.

And his pot belly.

Thanks for his idiotic sartorial choices.

I'm eternally grateful for his stupid hair.

And how could I ever repay him for that moronic belt buckle?
So I'm rooting for Phil right now (although not as much as I'm rooting for his wife who is just beginning her battle with breast cancer) and I'll always be a sucker for Rocco. But truly, I'll okay with just about anybody winning at Bethpage Black, so long as it's not that jack ass Rory Sabatini.

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