Coming into Sunday at the 113th U.S. Open, the story was all about Phil Mickelson and his pursuit of his national championship. With five runner-up finishes, the most in the history of the event, Mickelson had some unfinished business with this tournament and the USGA. As is the case usually on U.S. Open Sunday, the winner would be crowned on Father’s Day, and with Mickelson seen as the ideal family man and loving father, the golf media worked itself into quite the lather leading into the final round. Did I mention that Sunday was also his 43rd birthday? You couldn’t write this stuff. The problem is, nobody told Justin Rose that he wasn’t supposed to win.
Even for the most ardent of golf fans, Rose has been a bit of an enigma. He first appeared on the national stage as an amateur in the 1998 Open Championship, where he ended up tied for fourth place at 17 years old. He turned pro the next day but struggled with his game, going winless until the 2002 Dunhill Championship. His father Ken, who had been fighting cancer, passed away soon after that victory. A few more wins and inconsistencies followed until Rose hired Sean Foley at the end of the 2009 season, leading to victories at huge PGA Tour events like the Memorial, AT&T, BMW and WGC-Cadillac, but the major championship still eluded him.
Highs and lows are common on the golf course, even for the professionals, but it’s magnified at the U.S. Open, where the USGA does it’s very best to manipulate the course in a way that protects par, as if the best players in the world breaking it would cause some kind of cataclysmic event. The list of players who missed the cut on Friday was littered with some of the game’s best, including twelve major champions. Another nine major winners who made the cut never threatened the leaders on the weekend.
Here is a hypothetical situation: There are two teams, A and B, preparing to meet in a best-of-seven playoff series for a sport’s championship. Team A is highly favored to win. Team B is not. For which team would you root?
In 1991, two researchers from Bowling Green State University posed this scenario to more than a hundred college students. Eighty-one percent chose the underdog.
Sports offer us a constant conflict of expectations from which stories are allowed to play out. The devoted sports fan follows statistics, measures performance and allows herself or himself to feel the emotions associated with winning and losing. This is all done as a means of enhancing the competitions we watch to the point of a narrative. This is the attraction. We are drawn to narratives, and the most appealing narratives include the unlikely.
However, in works of fiction there is a certain point to which the boundaries of believability can extend. Typically, these restrictions do not exist in sports, although this distinction has recently been put to the test by a 22-year-old golfer from Dundas, Ontario, named Mackenzie Hughes.
This week, all of the attention in the golf world will be focused on Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania for the 113th playing of the U.S. Open. Typically known as the toughest test in golf, the U.S. Open will challenge the players to be at their very best, as the USGA will be doing whatever they can to ensure that their reputation is upheld.
As for Merion, it’s the first time since 1981 that it will host the U.S. Open, so it’s a chance for a whole new generation of golf fans to see one of the world’s most iconic designs. The Fanatico A-Z Guide To The U.S. Open takes a look at what we can expect this week at Merion, as well as some of the historic value and moments that the event and course have provided us with over the past 117 years.
On April 29th, Jason Collins wrote a first-person essay for Sports Illustrated that began simply and succinctly.
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
The statement was celebrated, not because the sexual orientation of an athlete is of great importance, but by virtue of Collins promoting a principle that many of us accept: Sports are to be indiscriminate. Skin color, biological makeup, personal preferences and interests don’t matter. All that does is whether or not you can play. And that’s something that absolutely everyone should have the right to find out.
In something so achievement-based as sports, it’s surprising that this ideal isn’t more widespread. As unfortunate as it is, we seldom go a week without learning of a professional athlete who said something hurtful, a spectator who did something ignorant, or a governing body acting in way that excludes rather than includes.
The most recent of these regretful incidents is occurring in Quebec, where the province’s soccer federation has decided to ban turban-wearing Sikh children from participating in sanctioned competitions. Brigitte Frot, the director-general of the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF), was asked last week what she would tell a five-year-old boy in a turban who shows up to register to play soccer with his friends. She replied:
They can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice.
At a certain point in the fifth set it became futile. A notebook covered in blue ink and coffee stains wasn’t going to help. Put down the pen and enjoy this, idiot.
A friend who considers sport a needless distraction sent me a text in the fourth set. This match had officially crossed over into the mainstream. Every so often tennis will do this, when those days streaming a challenger circuit tournament in Hamburg pay off. When John McEnroe declares it the greatest of all time–he’ll do that.
Hyperbole? Yes. But this one was up there. Grievances, contested calls, wonderful shot making and a fifth set that didn’t want to end — the first semifinal on a Friday afternoon in Paris had it all.
It was nice to see Rafa challenged last week, but this is what we waited for. The best clay courter of all time against the best player in the world. Roger Federer, a draw no matter his form, exited at the perfect juncture, possibly sensing that this one wasn’t about him.
The importance of a single game in sports can range from relatively meaningless to being of the utmost relevance. Typically, it’s the weight of what happened before the single game that informs its significance. In North American professional sports, a seventh game in a series is only important because the previous six ended up even. Not every game is a seventh, though. There are game ones and twos, and an entire schedule of single games that lead up to that moment, all with seemingly varying degrees of meaning attached to them.
However, there is a method by which sports fans might enhance their experience for every single game, no matter the consequences involved for those participating in the sport or supporting the teams. We can wager on the outcomes.
Unfortunately, in Canada, we cannot wager on single games without negotiating the murky waters surrounding off-shore betting websites or the black sulfuric tar that encompasses a local book maker with ties to organized crime. The options for legal sports gambling in Canadian provinces (Pari sportif in Quebec, Pro-Line in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, and Sports Action in British Columbia) are restricted by law from offering anything but parlays involving multiple outcomes from at least two separate events.
At the 1993 Ashes a single delivery on June 4th would usher in a new era for Cricket. Leg spin bowling would be revolutioned by a bleach blond Australian with a flair for the dramatic. Shane Warne would take 71 test wickets in 1993, but the first will forever be remembered as the Ball Of The Century.
Australia dominated the first test at Old Trafford, led by the new opening partnership of Michael Slater and Mark Taylor. England debutant Peter Such made head-waves of his own, taking six wickets including Slater’s. Australia ended their first innings with 289 runs, a formidable score on a pitch that the batsmen found difficult to read.
Mike Atherton and Graham Gooch were to settle in for a long reign at the stumps for England until the former was bowled by Merv Hughes for 71 runs. Mike Gatting replaced Atherton, and that’s when it happened.
Explaining the inexplainable is an endeavor better left to the professionals, and Ian Healy’s description of Warne’s ridiculous ball put it best. It did just enough. Everything did just enough.
Warne would go on to help Australia win six successive Ashes series and finished with 708(!) Test wickets.
Gatting for his part had this to say some 20 years on:
“I’m happy to have been bowled by it because had it been some blond bloke who only played about 10 Test matches and got 27 wickets, then I would have been really upset. As it was, he became the best spinner of all time, so you don’t mind so much.”
Many who would know believe spin bowling was reborn when Warne took that wicket in Manchester. The man himself doesn’t believe the Gatting ball was his best, citing a delivery to Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies in 1996 as the apex of his spin wizardry.
While it is possible better balls have been bowled, the wicket gave Warne the confidence and belief that would make him one of the greatest of all time.