Tuesday, June 18, 2013

US Open 2013: Looking for Grace

Last Thursday I attended the Catholic Professionals breakfast in San Jose where local Mercury sportswriter, Mark Purdy, was the keynote speaker.  I loved his stories, dedication to his craft and his personal motto: "opinion on demand."  He made me consider as the author of this blog what mine might be. It is: "looking for grace."  
Every sporting event I attend or participate in, I look for it.  I wait to discover where grace will show up, when it will unfurl and how it will surprise me, sometimes reluctantly.  The 2013 US Open was no exception.  

That being said, there was no reason for me to take any satisfaction in the 32-year old English champion, Justin Rose.  None.  The script being written for 5-time runner up, Phil Mickelson was just too good.  With a one stroke lead going into the final round, grace was about to reign supreme.  

Even Phil must have conceded at some point, that grace was on his side.  How could it not be?  The final round of the 113th United States Open was being held on his 43rd birthday and on Father's day. Mickelson's own father, Phil Senior was at Merion Country Club while his wife Amy and their three daughters were at home in Rancho Santa Fe, CA a place that he decided to return to for 24-hours so he could attend his eldest daughter's eighth grade graduation.  


This was the daughter that was born shortly after the 1999 US Open. Golf fans know about this special young woman, Amanda, as her legend lives large.  Mickelson wore a beeper on the course, claiming that if his wife, Amy went into labor he would leave the tourney to join her at the hospital.  He finished the tourney as runner up to Payne Stewart.  Since then, he has been the runner up five, now six times.

Phillie-fans hoped this would be the year.  Indeed, grace was on-edge as Mickelson double-bogeyed the third and fifth holes but had everyone believing all was not lost as Lefty nailed an eagle shot on the 10th hole.  Hope was alive.

And yet, a telling stat reveals what went wrong.  Mickelson had more putts on the day than any other player.  A dear friend's advice has always been: two putt.  If only Phil had listened.

As Mickelson missed a putt for birdie on 16, Justin Rose was approaching 18.  The writing was on the wall.  Every fan knew that Mickelson would need to birdie one of the last two holes, one of which no one in the tourney had done.

I waited to see what Justin Rose would do.  I was hoping he would collapse, that he would flank it way left, that his ball would be forever lost in the rough.  Instead, he "striped his drive into the fairway, then hit an excellent second shot that trickled through the green." He then nearly holed the chip for birdie, settling for a par that all but sealed his victory. 

He walked toward the iconic wicker basket flag with tears in his eyes.  As he looked skyward, I came to learn that he had one coach growing up--his father, Ken, who died of leukemia in 2002. 
As written on ESPN Golf, "I was trying to keep it together, obviously, because I didn't want to be premature. Phil had two holes to play. But that was my time, the clouds had parted, it was kind of ironic. It was just a beautiful evening. And the way it worked out, I felt like I needed to do that." And there we have it, grace showed up.  Damn it.  Did he have to die of leukemia?  Did this sweet victory in some small way atone for all their family had endured. No.  And...well, maybe.

Rose added, "Yes, the look up to the heavens was absolutely for my dad; Father's Day was not lost on me today. You don't have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him and being Father's Day.  My dad was the inspiration the whole day."

It's not at every Sunday mass, but whenever we say the Apostles' Creed, I give pause when we say "I believe in the communion of saints."  I do.  I say it with conviction and reverence for what it is.  I believe in the holy men and women--Saints and saints--who have gone before us.  Death is not an end; it is entry into a new relationship.  Justin Rose's father was still coaching him on Sunday, on Father's Day.  He didn't make Justin win, but he was with him--in love--every step of the way.

I looked for grace on Sunday and I found it--reluctantly but beautifully.  Don't take grace on a journey.  Who knows what you will find.  But I will...and I'm considering changing my motto.  How is "Grace on demand?"

Photo Credits
Rose points to heaven
Rose prevails
Phillie Eagles
Payne Stewart Embrace

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