Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Shadow on 'The Masters'"

It’s been bothering me for a week, so I thought I’d write about it.

“The Masters” is the Kentucky Derby of golf. It’s the Big One. The tournament even people disinterested in golf pay attention to.

I’ve played golf maybe twice, on the Michiana golf course near our cabin in Indiana. It’s not a real serious golf course. They let dogs on it.

“The Masters” course is spectacular. You can’t help but be impressed by its breathtaking layout, landscaping and design. Not to mention its history, only some of which is racist.

Two big stories emerged during this year’s “Masters.” Phil Mickelson, the eventual winner, had both a wife and a mother battling cancer, and Tiger Woods was discovered to have had sex with every woman in the United States. The problems, though serious, were, in this context, peripheral. The real question was would their personal difficulties affect their play.

Of all sports – this is my view; bowlers may reasonably disagree – golf is by far the most psychologically demanding. Golf offers no available outlet for channeling nervous energy, like hitting people in hockey and football, being constantly on the move in basketball, or scratching yourself in baseball.

In golf, you hit the ball, you walk, and ten minutes later, you hit the ball again. Your success depends unquestionably on your making your shots; but it, arguably, depends equally on your keeping your emotions under control during those ten-minute intervals.

Seeing Mickelson coolly sink that ten-foot putt on the last hole, with millions of people watching and the tournament not entirely in the bag – that’s a champion, displaying mental toughness under maximum duress. It was beautiful to behold.

What inspired me to write this post, however, was not the play; it was the television commentary surrounding the event. I was truly shocked by it. Over the years, I’ve watched thousands of sporting events. This year’s “Masters” had the most negative coverage I have ever experienced.

Coverage of sporting events can be outrageously rosy. “That goal makes it 10-1. They’re on their way back!” This “Anything can happen” mentality is the standard approach for retaining viewers during a blowout. This “Masters” coverage was the opposite. No, not the opposite, it was the same, but in the other direction.

The coverage was: “Anything bad can happen.”

It was incredible. No matter what was going on, the announcers found ways to describe virtually every moment from the bleakest possible perspective.

“It looks hopeless from here.”

“Using a ‘three-wood’ instead of his “driver.’ An enormous blunder.”

“He had a putt from the same spot last year and he botched it horribly. The question is, will he learn from that debacle, or will he duplicate that same costly mistake?”

Maybe it’s because the announcers were English, and they’re used to waking up to gray skies. True, American commentators can be relentlessly upbeat, but these guys went entirely the other way. The weather was perfect; the announcers were raining on the parade.

And it never let up.

“He must be kicking himself after butchering such a relatively easy shot.”

“He can’t possibly make ‘par’ from there.”

“Years ago, another golfer who fell apart in a similar ghastly fashion. He hanged himself later that week.”

Once, after a golfer stroked a longish putt, the announcer went, “No”, after which the ball went directly into the hole. The announcer’s reaction? “Oh.”

The situation was becoming ludicrous. It was as if someone had discovered all the negative thoughts, self-doubts, worries and concerns golfers need to banish from their minds in some “Things You Can’t Think” receptacle, vacuumed them up, delivered them to the announcers, who spewed them out over the airwaves.

“If he misses this one, he’s finished.”

“I can only imagine his inner torment, playing so poorly in front of family and friends.”

“Where does he go from here? I think it’s time to rethink his entire game.”

“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”

It never stopped, even when the guy won:

“Well, now, it’s off to the clubhouse, where he’ll be helped on with the traditional “Green Jacket.” Let’s hope he doesn’t split it down the seams. That would be hugely embarrassing.”

They didn’t actually say that. But it would have fit right in.

I’m hardly what you’d call a positive person, but this was “over the top” negative. It made me so angry, I was hoping at some point, the announcer would report:

“The shot is hooking horribly to the left, flying hideously awry, and, oh, it’s actually headed this way and appears to be flying directly towards my head. I can’t imagine surviving such a devastating blow.”

Sadly, I was disappointed.

Oh, well. That’s golf.


Max Clarke said...

Hilarious, Earl, that last fictional commentary, the ball coming to his head.

Maybe that's the way to write for that politics and news site you mentioned. Art Buchwald did something like that, and he was funny and political.

YEKIMI said...

The only thing worse than golf on TV is golf on the radio.