July 21, 2009

Don't Tell Me Tom Watson "Choked"

If you listen to or watch mainstream media the past couple of days, a consistent meme has emerged: Tom Watson choked and lost the Open Championship on the last hole. If he didn’t do it there, he certainly did so in the four hole playoff that followed.

Worse still, some naysayers he didn’t belong in the mix for the Claret Jug and that the only reason he was there in the first place was because there was a weak field over the weekend.

It's said that you can not read the newspaper and be uninformed, or you can read the newspaper and be misinformed.

If you want a textbook example of the truth in that aphorism, take a look at several of the commentaries on Watson yesterday. They're wrong. They are insulting. And they deserve to line bird cages...but the birds would probably demand better.

First of all, Tom Watson made the cut and Tiger Woods didn’t. He didn't get a free pass. He earned it. Woods didn't earn it, and he headed back home after two days of bad golf.

They played the same golf course, under more or less the same conditions, and the old man kept his cool and performed when he needed to, while the World’s #1 could do neither. That should end the argument for all time that Tom Watson didn’t deserve to be there. He golfed his ball, Woods smashed his clubs into the ground. Nothing more needs to be said.

As for “choking” – Tom Watson made a mistake on the approach shot to the 18th green, and he overclubbed by one, an 8-iron when a 9-iron would have been the better choice. The ball flew about two feet too far in the strong winds. His pitch was a hair too hard, this time against the wind. His final putt, yes, it could have been better, but then again, plenty of people missed eight foot putts all week.

That’s not choking. These guys should know better too, they've seen the difference in their own lifetimes. One only has to recall the debacle of the last hole of the 1999 Open Championship to see a vivid example of the difference.

In 1999, Jean Van de Velde’s stubborn insistence to play the 18th a Carnoustie in the manner he did -- that's choking. Van de Velde, despite having a three shot lead on the last tee didn’t play smart golf and chose a driver over an iron shot that would have surely found the safety of the fairway. Then he still refused to play smart golf and get his ball back in play in the fairway. That’s stupid golf, and that’s choking.

Tom Watson, on the other hand, fell victim to a rub of the green. Big difference, and if you know a damned thing about golf, you understand that. But that won’t let famous commentators from making infamous insults. That’s what they do and that’s why I don’t listen to them very often. I'd rather read the likes of Vince Spence, Patricia Hannigan, Ryan Ballengee and Heather Jones, among others, because they know more about golf than folks like Mike Freeman at CBS Sports.

Me, I choose the high road of praising Stewart Cink and Tom Watson too for their respective performances. Cink is a deserving champion, and Watson showed us once again that he can still golf his ball on the greatest of stages. That’s what the sport is all about, and that’s what makes it great.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff...though I do disagree with you on the club choice into the green at 18. The 8-iron landed on the front part of the green and barely ran through the green. A 9-iron would have come up short of the green leaving him a very long pitch or putt. He hit the 8 too well and it barely rolled off. The putt coming back was a surprise, too. Out of that lie, I doubt he thought it would run 8 feet past the hole. Neither shot was a "mistake". He absolutely flushed 3 shots before the putt at 18.

    I was re-watching it with my brother yesterday, and during the Nicklaus interview, Nicklaus talked about Watson's putting stroke. He said that if Watson was going to show nerves, watch for the takeaway with the putter to get too steep, causing him to hit down on the ball just a little and the ball would come up short. Nicklaus was dead on.


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