Monday, June 19, 2017

The 2017 US Open: A Few Riches Amidst An Embarrassment of Others in Sports

As a sports fan, I get asked quite often what is my favorite one to watch. I've got my answer down: I love Notre Dame football, Giants baseball, I enjoy a lot of high school basketball but really, my favorite is the PGA. This comes as a surprise to some people, but it's the truth. What is your answer?

My love of golf is palpable when it comes time for the four most prestigious tournaments in the sport—the majors. There's a spring to my step and joy to my world. For example, on Thursday June 15, I happened to be playing in a two-day golf tourney as the US Open commenced at Erin Hills. About three holes in, I turned to my caddie and said "I'm so fired up for the US Open right now." Maybe I should have been more excited about the round of competition I was in.....but on opening day, any one of the 156 golfers in the field has an equal shot at the championship. 

The 117th Open that took place for the first time in Wisconsin had its share of great golf and notable misses (from Phil Mickelson who sat out to attend his daughter's high school graduation to the top 3 players in the world who missed the cut). I would be lying if I told you I shed a tear when Brooks Koepka captured the win; I don't want to take away from his historic feat. Koepka shares the low scoring record with Rory McIlroy, finishing with 16 under par. The 27-year old golfer out of West Palm Beach completed his final round with an accuracy rating of 85% and hit 86% of all greens in regulation. No other golfer has ever been above 80% in both categories on the 55th-72nd holes. And yet, as I turned off the television and closed the chapter on the second major of the year, I was reminded that spectacular victories and memorable final rounds are never a given. 

As a sports fan I don't think I take great wins for granted, however there has been an embarrassment of riches in recent sports history. Although 2016 was a year that many people wanted to forget, last year was epic in terms of sports. And, from this year's Masters to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, 2017 has not been devoid of them either. We have been spoiled, and we will be spoiled again. Until then, here are but a few ideas that this year's Open has has invited me to consider.

Rory with his father on Father's Day/US Open at Congressional 2013
A great Father's Day Tradition.
Is it just me or does Father's Day take a major back seat to Mother's Day? I am simply raising the question; please do not shoot the messenger.

That being said, I do love that the USGA honors golfers and their dad's on the day of the final round. Call is smart advertising, but I love the duo of this day for my dad and for golf. 

To this day, my favorite US Open was when Justin Rose beat Phil Mickelson at Merion (2014). I was a new member at the Olympic Club and took my dad and family out to brunch. We descended to the bar grill in the basement where we watched the final eight to ten holes. My dad who was allegedly stuffed from a fantastic meal, found room for two beers and the peanuts and pretzel snacks they offer. Why not, it was his day. Thanks Dad!

75% of the golfers on my team learned to play golf with or from their dad. On this day, I honor those men, for without them, I might not have the chance to coach their daughters. 

We need more great fathers in the world. I hope in some small way, that message is articulated even through the US Open.

Why is that okay?
About 10 years into teaching high school students, I struck gold. I found the perfect question for disciplinary purposes. 

A student was distracting me and his classmates once again. I had already confronted the behavior. I had given wait time for said student to stop talking and make amends. He didn't. Rather than lose it, yell or over react, I simply looked him in the eye as he was talking to yet another student and said "Why is that okay?" 

I repeated the question, "I need to know, why is it okay that you are talking right now."
"It's not," he said.

"Thank you," I replied. Matter solved.

Holly Sonders has been a golf analyst on both the Golf Channel and on Fox Sports. While there were four male commentators sitting in the booth and analyzing the tourney, Ms Sonders was standing and interviewing a few players after their round. I looked at her dress, did a compare and contrast with the conservative shirts, suits and ties in the booth, and looked at her again. Why is that okay? was my only sole reaction.

Her dress might not be appropriate for clubbing later in the evening, but I'm not convinced it was appropriate for golf either. 

I understand that Fox Sports was covering the men's US Open. I can comprehend why there are far more men narrating the tourney than there are women. But I cannot understand why Juli Inkster who played on the LPGA since 1983 was heard and never seen and why Holly Sonders, was seen and heard much less. 

The littlest of things can delight us
Rickie Fowler wears orange and white on Sundays to honor his alma mater, Oklahoma State. Perhaps you noticed what was not necessarily a clash of colors, but just a whole lot more of it on and around the 9th ranked golf player in the world during the Open. Fowler had his caddie Joe Kkovron carry a green and gold Cobra golf bag to honor the Green Bay Packers. Great call in the land of cheese heads Rickie.
Wisconsin's own native son, Steve Stricker had an outstanding performance at Erin Hills. Though 50 years old, he shot the same score in today's round, a 69 as the 23 year old Jordan Spieth. What I love about Stricker isn't just his surname (we've got to be related), but the fact that he has a female caddie. That's right. There's no need to discriminate on gender. A caddie must know the game, take good notes, make astute observations and be encouraging. That person for Stricker is his wife, Nicki.

Springsteen fans yell out BRUUUUUUCCCE! at every show. Matt Kuchar is developing fan calls that rival the Boss'. Have you noticed? KOOOOCH may also be giving Steve Kerr a run for the money as another man who has no enemies. Kuchar might be the most beloved player on the tour, which I can support. I swear it looks like he is smiling and enjoying every hole. How is that possible? Must be the fan support.
On Sunday, the final round, the absence of my favorite players forced me to reconsider who to cheer for. Always a fan of Rickie, I hoped he would win his first major. Second on my list was Justin Thomas, simply because he went to St. X in Cincinnati, a brother Jesuit high school My third and final hope was in Patrick Reed, and here's why. According to Golf Digest,
"Captain America," as he's known to fans, broke out the team trousers for Round 3 at Erin Hills, and they do seem to have brought him good fortune today. He shot a 7-under 65 for a share of the lead and a shot at U.S. Open glory. 
Unfortunately Reed did not post the memorable round that he did at Hazeltine, but I still treasure the riches from the US win (another great sports moment in 2016). 

For those who live in and around Erin, WI the 2017 US Open can't help but be memorable. Extending hospitality to the golfers and patrons from around the world is a privilege and a blessing. For those of us who watched on TV, through highlights or reviews in the paper, the 117th championship doesn't stand out as extraordinary on a grand scale. But to love a sport, and to see athletes strive to make themselves, their competitors and the game better as I did over the last four days...well, that's priceless.

Photo Credits
Patrick Reed

Brooks Wins

No comments:

Post a Comment