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Well Played, Darren

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

[Stuart Franklin/Getty Images]

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the Tour de France, but my true sporting love is golf. I don’t write about it nearly as often as I think of doing so. For instance, I have intended since last August to write a post about the US Amateur championship, which I attended for a day with my friend John down at Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 US Open. I may still write it. The problem is that typically there’s too much I want to say about any given tournament or issue.

Take last Sunday, perhaps not a typical day. Once the Tour stage ended, I switched to the Golf Channel to catch the close of the Scottish Open and an exciting victory by Luke Donald. A few hours later, it was time to check in on the John Deere Classic — the one-time Quad Cities Open — played in Illinois near the Quad Cities. Steve Stricker won in dramatic fashion with a birdie on 18 fashioned out of an approach shot from the slope of a fairway bunker with a terrible stance followed by a long putt from the fringe that dove into the hole. His third straight win in the Quad Cities. And then there was the women’s US Open, which had been plagued by stormy weather all weekend. Moments after I turned it on, the horn went off signaling the stop of play as thunderstorms approached. Ultimately, play was completed Monday morning, with NBC unceremoniously dumping the coverage onto the Golf Channel. No interrupting the Today Show for the most important women’s golf tournament of the year.

There was enough material there for several posts, including one about the sad state of women’s professional golf, which is poorly covered and therefore hard to follow even for the few of us who care. I didn’t know where to begin.

And here we are, on the weekend of an event I love, all the more since attending a day of the Open Championship in 1990 at St. Andrews and all of it in 2004 at Troon. I’m going to keep it simple. Darren Clarke was the surprise winner, but he played so consistently well day after day that by the end it was no surprise at all. And a popular victory it was.

I was particularly struck, as Clarke stood at the 18th green during the formal announcements of the awards ceremony, awaiting the claret jug, when Davis Love out from the clubhouse to congratulate Clarke and have a few private words, putting his arm around Clarke, punching him lightly on the arm, showing great affection and sharing the pleasure of his win. A minute later, as the formal remarks continued, Phil Mickelson came over from a few yards away, where he had been standing with fellow runner-up Dustin Johnson, to put his arm around Darren and chat. Everyone knew their obvious bond, what with Darren’s wife Heather dying of breast cancer five years ago and Phil’s wife Amy battling it more recently. I don’t imagine there could have been a more beloved winner.

I’ll leave it at that. But let me quote from the close of Lawrence Donegan’s Open coverage at The Guardian:

Clarke has links golf running through his veins. He understands the importance of the ball flight – the lower the better – and that a golfer has no better friend than par in the wind and rain that swept across the golf course all day. A famously impatient man, he also found it within himself on this day of days to wait for the championship to come to him. And come it did.

His scoring highlight came at the par‑five 7th, where he holed from 30 feet for an eagle, the perfect riposte to an earlier eagle at the same hole by the charging Mickelson who had briefly taken a share of the lead. But the true beauty of his performance lay in its incremental parts. A cut shot here, a running hook there, a four-foot putt rammed into the back of the cup – like a painter laying down his brush strokes until, finally, the masterpiece is complete.

On a couple of occasions the bounce went his way, but for every piece of good fortune there was a putt that lipped the hole and somehow stayed above ground. There was no luck in this victory, only sweetness and redemption. It was not so long ago that Clarke was written off by some “experts” – a premature dismissal that apparently spurred him on.

“You know, bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times,” he said, eyeing the Claret Jug beside him.

“I’ve always been pretty hard on myself when I fail because I don’t find it very easy to accept that. And there’s times I’ve been completely and utterly fed up with the game. But friends and family say, get out there and practise and keep going, keep going, keep going, and that’s why I’m sitting here now.”

Categories: Golf

Cavendish Again

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Cavendish winning stage 15 at Montpellier

[Pascal Pavani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]

In my post last night, I wondered how to handle the conflict this morning between a sprint stage on the Tour and the final round of the British Open golf tournament. My normal pattern is to give myself over to the Tour until the stage ends, then switch over to golf. But what a front nine Phil Mickelson was having in Sandwich! We were well into the golfing drama as today’s Tour stage neared its end. We did switch over to the Tour with about 12K left and watched it to conclusion.

A fascinating day, even if of no significance with regard to the general classification, what with 116 riders finishing in the same time. Nonetheless, as I saw just a little but heard about, Team HTC had to fight the whole length of the stage to make sure that the peloton didn’t lose contact with, and eventually reeled in, the breakaway. And then they had to set up Cavendish for the sprint finish. All of which they did perfectly in an extraordinary display of cycling teamwork.

As they neared the finish, HTC was reduced to the usual pair, Mark Renshaw leading out Cavendish. André Greipel seemed not to be in position to make a move, but Alessandro Petacchi was, and soon Tyler Farrar entered the picture. Renshaw peeled off, Cavendish made his sprint for the win, Petacchi couldn’t keep up, but suddenly there was Farrar moving up on Cavendish’s left, drawing within a wheel as Cavendish crossed the finish line for the win. An exciting finish and a win well earned.

For the record, this is Cavendish’s 4th stage victory of the Tour and 19th overall. In more detail, he won 4 stages in 2008, then 6 stages in 2009, another 5 last year, and the 4 this year. I read an interesting statistic in The Guardian’s coverage:

Cavendish is now the only man in history to have won four road stages – in other words, not including individual or team time trials – in four consecutive Tours. Not even Eddy Merckx did that. The records keep tumbling.

The Tour will have bigger business to attend to after tomorrow’s rest day, as I described last night. The ride to the Alps on Tuesday, the rides in the Alps the next three days, and the individual time trial on Saturday. But come Sunday and the closing ride into Paris, watch out again for Cavendish.

And Farrar, who seems to have some sort of beef with Cavendish and HTC. At the end of the coverage this morning, Versus got hold of Farrar for an interview and he was steaming. He could barely control his voice, but he held back from stating just what exactly he was angry about. He did mention Cavendish being kept alive in yesterday’s mountain stage, not slipping too far back to be eliminated, and there seemed to be a hint that something nefarious made this possible. Maybe it was the heat of the moment, after a difficult day and a near miss at the finish line. Whatever the issue, Farrar will want that stage win in Paris, and it may be a thrilling finish. Let’s just hope they both make it through the Alps unscathed and ride their best on Sunday.

Categories: Cycling

From the TSA Front

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Gail and Joel had some business this past week in North Carolina. They flew Delta to Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) on Tuesday and returned Friday night. The outbound trip was routine. It included a very short layover in Detroit, with potential for trouble, but the flight into Detroit arrived early, and they had no checked luggage, so there was no problem at all, and the next leg, to RDU, was early too.

The return trip on Friday, via Atlanta, was not so pleasant, thanks to the TSA and Delta. This isn’t my story to tell, since I wasn’t a part of it, so I will be brief. But I don’t want the unpleasantries to pass without comment.

Things got off to a bad start at RDU, when Gail and Joel went through security. One line, which appeared to be slower, led through a standard screening lane. The other, which they chose, had both standard screening and one of the famed Rapiscan machines. Apparently, people were selected for the rapiscan on essentially a first-come, first-served basis. Once a scannee walked out of it, the next available person would be sent in. Others passing through in the interim would receive standard scanning.

Through this random process, Joel was directed to the rapiscanner. He declined, as is his right. As has been well reported, no one really has a clue how safe those things are. Or how secure the images are. Why endure it? But, as was also well reported back when it was in the news during the holidays last year, if one invokes one’s right to bypass the rapiscanner, one is subjected to a vigorous and intimate frisking. Plus, just for the heck of it, one may also be subject to rudeness and harassment. Joel got an extra dose of that. Again, this isn’t my story, and I don’t have all the facts, but one example of the harassment was a detailed examination of his carry-on bag (his only bag for the trip), prompting the TSA harasser to question him about his 3 ounce bottles of contact solution and to bring the supervisor over for a closer look. Everyone knows 3 ounces is the limit, and Joel was within that limit, but they chose to make a fuss about it nonetheless. (And let’s not even get into the idiocy of the 3 ounce limit and the broader issue of the ratcheting up of airport security, so that once some dumb regulation is introduced, it is never removed.)

While Gail waited for Joel, she watched an older woman in a wheelchair being sent into the rapiscanner. What’s especially interesting about this is that just the day before, the ABC-affiliated TV station in Raleigh reported on a similar incident:

A 94-year-old wheelchair-bound Florida woman says a search she went through at Raleigh/Durham International Airport went too far.

Marian Peterson said it happened July 6 as she went through a TSA security checkpoint before boarding a flight home.

Peterson said she was selected for extra screening. First, security officers lifted her out of her wheelchair and helped her stand in a full body scanner. Then, she was given a physical pat down.

“They took me to one side and they patted me down, and they made me stand for, with my arms out, for over 10 minutes,” she said. “I was beginning to feel that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to stand, I was going to fall down or something.”

We would have missed this story if Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic writer and blogger, hadn’t posted about it on Friday, more or less as Gail and Joel were at RDU. Goldberg has been one of the best commentators in recent years on airport security excess. Joel saw the story yesterday morning and thought for a moment that it was about the very woman who was rapiscanned right after him, but of course the timing was off, since the reported incident took place earlier in the month. In any case, as Goldberg noted, the story was part of “today’s news of the absurd.” And there’s no evidence that the absurdity will end.

Things didn’t get better for Gail and Joel. Once they cleared security, Gail and Joel were able to get on an earlier flight to Atlanta, but this just gave them a three-hour layover. And that layover became longer when Delta had some equipment problem that they didn’t fully explain, as a result of which they had to switch airplanes. Apparently, because the new one had a different configuration, some seat reassigning was necessary, as Gail and Joel discovered when they were stopped at the gate as they were about to board. The machine scanned their boarding passes, sent some sort of signal, and they were told to step aside. Except there was no room to step aside. With the delay in boarding, everyone had been invited to board at once and there was chaos. Gail had managed to secure seats in exit rows when she did the online check-in, but now she and Joel were re-assigned to the rear of the plane.

There’s more. But I’ll stop. They did eventually arrive in Seattle and I drove them home.

Categories: Security, Travel