The Failure of Tom Watson

Watching Tom Watson's three-from-the-edge on the last regulation hole of the British Open was enough to make even a hardy golf nut agree with all those people who make fun of it. Maybe it really is an idiotic game. To suffer one of the most grievous professional heartbreaks of a lifetime by fanning an attempt at an eight-footer after having done everything right for 71 holes -- that's not golf, that's some marathon existential spoon-egg race. 

It might make you question this whole deal of winning a golf championship. Especially parasitic writers and sports fans judging sports figures' characters by how well they perform under pressure. 
It's always fun hearing the announcers when a player goes into a tailspin. They have one or two trusty pitying refrains -- Johnny Miller is pretty good at this ("Who knows what's going through Kip's mind?") though Gary Koch has almost cornered the market in captioning some young Turk's failure in tones of rueful irony -- "He'll have a lot to think about tonight and in the days and weeks and months and years ahead."
Ted Williams said the hardest thing to do in sports was to hit a baseball, but really it's winning a golf tournament -- if you get one a year you're doing quite well, if you get one major in your lifetime you're some kind of hero, and more than one makes you a golf God. Hardly anyone ever wins one of those without having gone through a few "learning experiences," blowing up on Sunday afternoon.
For some, collapsing almost becomes a way of life, and watching them is kind of like seeing your favorite old actors popping up in a new movie -- there's Phil Mickelson, arms piled with loot, about to enter the gates of heaven, unable to keep himself from betting the whole stack at the Keno counter and, to no one's else's surprise, losing it all. Greg Norman, steely-eyed, seemed determined to harden himself into a golfing machine, and his bitter resolve seemed to erase all sense of joy -- the caddies used to say he was scared of winning, but he just looked kind of lonely, like he wasn't completely sure it was all worth it. Colin Montgomerie presented a particularly ludicrous yet poignant specimen: an awful case of rabbit ears, who found fault with the everything on the golf course except himself -- until it was all over, when he'd have to say, "Well, yes, I suppose I blew it."
Okay, but how does someone win one of these things? First, because he's better prepared, and then with help from the sportswriter/announcer cliches: guts, mental toughness, getting married having focused him on what's really important. And some things they never talk about on TV, like that he's cultivated a belief in himself bordering on the psychotic, which might be closest to the truth.
Nevertheless, plain ol' metaphysics isn't nearly enough -- otherwise many more of the truly devoted in faith might have won big golf tournaments -- because, mercifully, the Lord has more important things on His mind than how many greens you hit in regulation. 
This is where Watson's suggestions that something mystical was going on comes in. Here and there he hinted about his late, devoted caddie, Bruce Edwards. It's only natural a professional golfer in the hunt for a major invoking the spirit world: cemetery-green fairways are just the right place for entertaining morbid visions. Even the most cynical of us were practically forced to accept that the ghost of Harvey Penick had something to do with the '95 Masters victory of Ben Crenshaw, who had no business even making the cut. 
Strangely, though, Watson barely seemed to exchange a word with the man who was carrying his bag that day. Instead it looked like he was communing with some hidden supernatural wellspring, wearing that creased, well-worn mask of tenacity, his thin, pursed lips toggling effortlessly between hope and regret as needed. It was impossible to imagine anyone in the world rooting against Watson that day -- even Gary McCord.
Then he goes and three-putts.
Why does the easiest thing to do in golf become the hardest? Volumes of schadenfreudiana were written about Hogan's yips, which forced him out of the game. (My favorite quote: "It's like there's sand between my ears.") It's strange watching a good golfer struggling on the greens, but particularly weird when it's someone who used to be a brilliant putter -- they enter their stance with reluctance and uncertainty, as though for an appointment they'd rather miss, until it finally comes time to hit the bloody thing, and there's no turning back, and still they falter like an uncertain bridegroom stammering, in this case forgetting they've been married to the game for a lifetime already, and then -- um. 
Now, of the many, many of remarkable things about Tiger Woods' golf game, the fact that he almost never, ever misses anything under six feet is the most amazing. 
So, okay, now that it's all about Tiger Woods again: what's the most annoying thing we've all heard about him? The dreadful, embarrassing, puzzling, nauseating trait is of course, his fabled cheapness, as he is said not to be not simple a mediocre tipper, but practically savage in his unwillingness to part with a dime. But that's probably the secret to his putting, the thing which pulls the string taut and commands his complete attention and utter commitment: a vicious penny-pinching streak. 
I've never really been convinced that winning a golf tournament is always about character -- though usually, clearly, it is. Though Watson probably wouldn't describe gift to Stewart Cink as an act of generosity, maybe it's best seen as a charitable contribution in honor of his own blessed career.