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yeyang

It’s not like me to let an entire major golf championship go by without commenting on it. So what happened last week? Well, I was so busy watching it that I didn’t take the time to write about it. I figured I would wait until the end. And then, when the end came — I need to learn a way to deal better with this — I found the result so painful that I put all thoughts of the tournament out of my mind. No blog posts, no reading of online or newspaper coverage. Yesterday my copy of Golf World came. Surprise PGA winner Y.E. Yang was on the cover. I haven’t looked inside yet.

The thing is, this is completely nuts. One of the greatest upsets in golf history took place. Tiger has won 14 majors, the last being the dramatic 2008 US Open victory prior to surgery. Tiger is back from surgery, has done poorly in the first 3 majors of the year, but is on a roll. Has won 5 tournaments this season, the last two in a row. He’s poised to win PGA #5 (which would tie him for most with Nicklaus and Hagen), major #15, increasing his lead on all golfers besides Nicklaus while moving closer to NIcklaus’s record of 18), plus his third tournament in a row and sixth of the year. His 14 major victories all came after entering the final round in the lead, alone or tied. Two points here — whenever he leads a major going into the final round, he wins, and that’s the only way he has won a major.

So what does Tiger do? He shoots a 67 to take the first round lead by a stroke over defending champion Padraig Harrington. He opens up a four-stroke lead in the second round. Many observers are conceding the tournament to him. A sloppy third day costs him two strokes off his lead. But he always wins when leading with a day to go. Doesn’t he? Even if others draw even, as they did, he finds a way. He wills the ball into the hole.

Not this time. Entering the final round, both Harrington and South Korean Y.E. Yang were two back. By shooting the better third-round score of the two, Yang earned the right to pair with Woods in the final round, with Harrington playing one pair ahead. Newcomers to final pairings on final days of majors have a long history of shooting high 70s or 80 and fading fast. Even newcomers who go on to greatness. Soon the camera finds a way of ignoring them, so you forget who that other guy in the final pair is. This was Yang’s likely fate, as Woods would fight it out with Harrington, if anyone at all.

Alas, Harrington shot an 8 on the par 3 eighth hole, ending his chances. And Yang just wouldn’t go away. Indeed, after an amazing chip in for eagle 2 on the short par 4 14th hole, Yang led. They had been tied for the lead on the 14th tee, and this was Woods’ chance to regain the lead. He birdied, but left the hole 1 stroke behind.

This is where Tiger has always excelled, going back to his days in junior golf, his great match play victories in the US Amateur, and most recently in his victory over Rocco Mediate in last year’s US Open. He always gets that birdie when he needs it, or intimidates his playing partner.

Nope. They both parred 15 and 16. They both bogeyed 17. And Yang finished it off with a birdie on 18 to Woods’ bogey.

A win for the ages. How could anyone not marvel at the Yang’s composure, his great approach shot on 18, his fearlessness, his swing, his tenacity. His win.

Me, I couldn’t. I was too busy fidgeting, waiting for Tiger to produce some magic, or for Yang to explode. Not that I ever root for someone to do something bad, but I sure wanted Tiger to win. And so, rather than being thrilled by Yang’s victory, I was too busy being anxious, and then in mourning. A major isn’t complete until I see the analysis on the Golf Channel. Not this time.

If you’ve been keeping score, you’ll know that this is the second major in a row that I didn’t let myself enjoy, whose ending left me an emotional wreck. A month ago, I behaved much the same way after Tom Watson missed the par putt on 18 that would have given him the British Open on the virtual eve of his 60th birthday. My greatest sporting pleasure — following the unfolding narrative of a major golf tournament — has become my worst sporting nightmare.

I understand the problem. It’s a familiar one. The curse of being a fan. Instead of maintaining emotional distance and allowing the drama to unfold, marveling at its twists and turns, I am hoping for a particular outcome. There are two problems with this, the emotional one that it leads to disappointment more often than not and the aesthetic-cognitive one that I’m I can’t appreciate what the beauty of what I’m watching because I’m too invested in a particular result. In other sports, I have learned to do a better job maintaining distance. I don’t know how to do that with golf.

It may be time to give golf up. Which is too bad, because I’d already been talking to Gail about whether we should try to get down to Pebble Beach in June for the US Open or over to St. Andrews in July for the British Open. We’ve only been to one US Open, in 2002 at Bethpage Black on Long Island. And to one British Open, in 2004 at Troon. (Not counting 1990, when I went to the second day of the Open at St. Andrews, as Gail stayed behind in Edinburgh with Joel, who had just turned 3.) I was thinking we should make sure to go to one of the two, if not both. Forget that. It’s time to cancel my Golf World subscription, block the Golf Channel on TV, move on. Or else get a sports psychologist. Just about every golfer has one. Maybe it would help.

Congratulations Y.E. What a win!

Categories: Golf, Sports
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