Friday, June 21, 2024

Brutiful—Thoughts on the 2024 US Open at Pinehurst No 2

In four years of hosting Faith Fondue, I have noticed that my podcast partner and I reference and return to a number of  themes, topics and tropes time and again. We have made up terms and put others on repeat. Our audience has yet to complain. Thank you, listeners!  Among our favorites is "snark" or "the snark." We do what we can to say away from it.  In a recent episode, Haley shared a compelling word used by her friend —it is "brutifal." It points to a reality—one in which two contrasting ideas are not mutually exclusive but true: brutal and beautiful. How is is that something is both brutal and beautiful? We can both attest to stories and situations that can only be described with this compound word. Such is the framework for thinking about the 2024 US Open. Snark not included.

I just returned from a Sport at the Service of Humanity at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. Since its 2016 origins at The Vatican, this conference—which has taken place on several college campuses—has called on faith leaders, sport and athletic pioneers, and academic experts to explore how to combine the passion of sport and values of faith to build a better world. This gathering commenced on the Monday after the US Men's Open Championship. Nary a session passed without some reference to the final round at Pinehurst #2. It think that "brutiful" is the only way to describe it.

Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports! captures both the brutality and some of the beauty in this recap. He writes

In an epic battle, DeChambeau and McIlroy went to the 18th hole tied at 6-under. McIlroy, up ahead, missed a 4-foot putt for par, opening the door for DeChambeau. Only, it took some sorcery from DeChambeau to make it happen.

After a wayward drive left him hunched under a tree, forcing him to punch out to a greenside bunker, DeChambeau hit the bunker shot of his life, dropping it to within 4 feet.

Unlike McIlroy, he wouldn't miss, and a second U.S. Open championship was his.

"I can't believe that up-and-down on the last," DeChambeau said. "Probably the best shot of my life."

For McIlroy, it's another major gone without lifting a trophy, this one maybe as bitter as any in the 37 (and counting) since his last major victory at the 2014 PGA Championship. He missed two putts inside 4 feet in the final three holes. Watching inside the scoring tent as DeChambeau's putt dropped, McIlroy understandably looked as dejected as ever.

McIlroy finished one group ahead of DeChambeau. This means upon finishing his round, he had to submit his scorecard and wait—knowing what his mistakes cost him. Brutal. The camera mercilessly showed his reaction to DeChambeau's finish—each stroke of the way: DeChambeau's errant drive that sat on top of some rocks and roots. The punch out into the bunker. One of the better ups and downs in golf history. The 4 foot putt that went in...and did not lip out. High on drama, brutal for McIlroy and his fans to see. 

Too many determine that "Rory choked." Sports fan love to ask How did he miss that putt?  I always wonder: Do these people really play golf? Dear brutality, please meet humility. I have a feeling you have met before.

Rory's finish was the only brutal aspect of this tournament. The course was too. Watching players putt from off the turtle back greens only to see the ball roll to the other side—or worse—back down to where it was. Truly this was a contest of the greatest golfers: man vs. the course. And there's the beauty.

Yes, the course itself is stunning. It's hard to look away from the game when it is played
amidst tall and stately pines on wide fairways, beside native sandy areas. Every hole is interesting and demanding. To me, it is the ideal combination of natural and historic character, highlighted by strategic design. Golf is a beautiful game when the course emerges as an equal competitor. The USGA put Pinehurst and 156 men in play. We saw the winners. Speaking of...

The Snark
A longtime fan of the Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins, so many people shared her her piece about Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova Bitter Rivals. Beloved Friends. Survivors, I had no other choice than to blog about it. I'm glad I did. Nearly one year later, I find myself in a similar situation, but this response is characterized by a different spirit. Jenkins' article U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau is a world-class phony is heavy on brutality, lacking in beautiful. It is far from brutiful. Although she speaks of a difficult reality that the game of golf and many other sports face—in light of Saudi funding—I find the article quite snarky.

The title alone is fair warning. I think the jury is out on Bryson DeChambeau. To call him a phony, albeit a world class one, is mean spirited. The whole piece reeks of snark. The comments section (which I always read with one eye) seems to agree.

She writes,

DeChambeau’s frantic efforts at audience rapport all week long were so obviously a public relations effort to reestablish a connection with golf fans who have recoiled wholesale from LIV Golf. The glint of his smile or the glare of the victory silver should not blind anyone to his actual conduct. It’s a true shame because the 30-year-old with the cartoon superhero’s jaw and the chesty swing yet soft hands really could be the star the game needs to replace the aging, ailing Tiger Woods. As it is, there’s no forgetting he’s a phony.

I have struggled what to make of  DeChambeau. A native of Modesto, CA he grew up playing on the JuniorTour of Northern California. Therefore, I have read about his success in the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) magazine for years. In short, he is a local guy made good. As a teacher, I appreciate his academic, unconventional approach to the game—one that focuses on physics. It is so calculated and thorough, I begged a colleague to show a video from the Mad Scientist of Golf in his Physics class. He did; kids loved it.

I too take issue with LIV golf and was surprised and disappointed when DeChambeau went to "the dark side." But even before that, I found his brash demeanor to be too much. I grew increasingly less able to cheer for him and celebrate his game. LIV put a nail in that coffin.

But, in the past six months, golf fans everywhere have noticed a change in 
DeChambeau. Has the 30 year old developed and matured? Is it "real?" Is his outreach "authentic?" 

I know the exact moment when I started to take an interest in DeChambeau again. I had seen what he was doing on the course. He was less bulky, no longer wearing the chap cap but now dawning the LIV Crushers logo (I don't care for either look). He threw a ball to a young fan and an adult took the golf ball. DeChambeau confronted him and the wrong was made right. I loved it. His behavior isn't surprising. Many times, it's his world and we the fans are living in it. Still, I don't know that any of this makes him a phony. 

I hope my take is snark free. Regardless, what we fans are experiencing in crowning DeChambeau the champion a question worth consideration: Can we allow people to change? And if we can, what is the criteria we use? How do we really know? We really don't know these people and yet we do--right? I wish Jenkins had weighed in on that.

Time will reveal the truth about who Bryson DeChambeau is. Perhaps there is both brutality and beauty in that. Right now, he is a two-time US Open Champion. The game, this championship has given us so much to think about. On Sunday, sports and a brutiful game emerged victorious.

Photo Credits
Rory putts

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