Monday, June 18, 2018

The 2018 US Open and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have given a lot of thought to the quote and claim by Michael Cunningham, "We become the stories we tell ourselves." Though the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, NY wasn't rife with outstanding stories (although what Phil Mickelson did on the 13th hole during the third round does waffle between hilarity and troublesome) , I believe there are three worth considering: one that the champion told himself, one that history will share and one that we ought to tell ourselves and others.
US Open champions also receive a Jack Nicklaus medal
I often wonder how much my personal joy and satisfaction from a sporting event is based upon the stories it spawns. Even a horrible loss or a bad game can be reconciled by a good yarn. A good story is meant to be— of course—given away, but I also think they should be cared for. Who better to care for a good story, than the one who writes the story.

The author of many such stories is Brooks Koepka, a native of West Palm Beach, Florida. He is also the runaway winner of the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills. Koepka finished four strokes ahead of the second place winner, posting a score of 16 under par. Never a fan of scores that no mortal will ever reach, I want to see these golfers struggle and grind. The tees from which they play extend the course by ungodly yardage. The distance between their tee and mine can compromise what is a treat for everyday golfers: knowing we walk the same links...we tread the same fairways...and we putt the same greens. Finishing said courses remotely even close to par on any given hole is an accomplishment. We are not on the tour for a reason, though we might like to be. To know that another human being completed the course for four days in a row going that low sends a much different message than when he or she finishes just one over par, as Koepka did this year. All the players in the field struggled with the wind, the pin placement, and the rollout. One player didn't even break 90 on the first day. I'm there.... a lot! So yes, the story we can tell ourselves based on the 2018 Open is that even the champion is not immortal, plus more.
Not only was his ball striking outstanding but he sank some incredible putts.
Brooks Koepka, ranked four in the world, was sidelined for the first two and half months of the year with a partial tear in the tendon of his left wrist. This injury could have been career ending, had he not tended to it in the way no golfer wants to do—time away, rest and more time. According to Golfweek
“It was torn a lot worse than they originally thought,” said Koepka, who doesn’t know what caused the partial tear to a tendon. “The ligaments that hold the tendon in place were gone. Every time I went to the doctor, it seemed like it got worse and worse.” 
His treatment included withdrawing bone marrow from his hip and injecting it into his left wrist, and then another session a month later of platelet-rich plasma injections. 
The injury not only caused Koepka to miss the Masters, it stopped the momentum that began with his four-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last summer. In his next nine starts, Koepka had one victory (by nine shots in Japan), a runner-up in the World Golf Championships event in Shanghai, two other top 10s and only one finish out of the top 20.
To some, the injury may sound like a small one, but its effects are big. For a right-handed golfer, the left-hand drives the club from the point of contact through impact. The temptation with a tear is to hope it goes away, getting better on its own. An athlete who has momentum on his or her side does not want to lose that lead. The story we need to tell ourselves with an injury is that injuries are part of the game. They happen, and the best indicator of an injury is a past injury. Let time do its thing. Let rest build recovery. The body, like the heart, does heal. From what I've read, Koepka has a high tolerance for pain. Fine. But don't let that get in the way of proper healing. 
With a healthy hand and a strong desire to pick up where he left off, Koepka came to Shinnecock ready to defend his title. Entering into the final round with as one of four players tied for the lead, he said "I feel really good about the position I'm in. I think to be one back, maybe two, you know, tied with it, it's a nice feeling. I feel like — like I said, there's nobody more confident. I won this thing last year. I feel really good. My game's in a good spot. I feel like you got to kind of take it from me, to be honest with you." I heard his words and thought "what an interesting story to tell yourself." Though he told others this story, that pep talk—that no one is more confident—was for himself. And, his self-assessment of his game? another good story all athletes need to tell themselves. A little bold, very honest and well, exactly right.

The story that Koepka can tell himself today is that he is once again a champion. And this year, his father, Bob Koepka was able to join him for another Father's Day win. I also appreciate that did so wearing a white ribbon on his cap. Mark Herrmann wrote that "each ribbon is a tribute to late Rockville Links pro Mike Turnesa, who died last month, and his brother Jim, who is ill. Koepka is a friend of Mike’s son Marc, a former PGA Tour member whom Koepka convinced to be his partner in this season’s Zurich Classic." History will add that he is one of seven golfers to have won back-to-back US Open titles. Not a bad story for history to tell, for others to hear and for the champion to tell himself. Congratulations BK!

Photo Credits
Two BKs

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