When Heroes Fall: A Mythical Creature Walks the Earth – at the British Open

While watching the British Open yesterday, it occurred to me how often we are inspired by our heroes making one more run at the glory that has eluded them since the days when they were perfect, and performed at their peak. As for all of us in life, we need to experience deep disappointment and failures to make us strong enough to be able to reach greatness and success at whatever we choose to do. This is most evident in sports.

Don’t get me started how we have ruined this for generations with the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy enacted years ago in little league – the former great teacher of values and character building sport of countless young kids for years when I was growing up…. but I digress….

As I watched I was reminded of sports heroes showing how they give it one more herculean effort just one more time. We all watch them on tv, as they capture the hearts of all. We watch regardless of what team the person is on, or who we are actually rooting for to win.

But the drama of watching this effort, while captivating and entertaining more often than not, exposes the heroes as human as they fail and disappoint us, as we time and time again ride the emotional roller coaster with them as if they owe us that glory once again. Maybe it’s because we all want to feel we can win when it’s our time to have a chance again. Think of the high school quarterback playing in a pickup game and throwing the winning touchdown pass to his childhood buddy at 35 years old…

We all want to think we can reach down and perform at those levels one more time…

Sometimes it’s sad to watch when the hero doesn’t realize it’s time to hang it up: Joe Namath in a west coast football uniform after the heroics in NY, or baseball’s Mickey Mantle limping around the bases, or ALI being beaten. But one sport gives our heroes many opportunities for glory well past their prime years and that is golf. Even if you are not a golf fan there have been moments where everyone followed or watched as these golf heroes chased the magic one more time. That journey took us all on a ride. Many failed and some captured the magic one more time. Sometimes it is not a hero from old times but someone making a heroic effort in a big championship to become a new hero. If he pulls this off he will go down in history… and like all of us, a critical mistake makes them crash and burn and many times they become forgotten, never to rise to the challenge again.

Examples abound…

Greg Norman, my golf hero as I became a serious golfer, gave us more than one example. In his prime he challenged the greats and won often. But his meltdowns most famously at the Masters were moments of disappointments for all of us, and like a train wreck we couldn’t take our eyes off the tv as we hoped he could magically pull it off, only to be shell-shocked as it slipped away when Nick Faldo was there to keep the coveted title away from him in his attempt at the green jacket. What made it worse was we all watched the years that others reached up and snatched that title away from him on other occasions with their own heroics that took away what was sure to be his glory. How many times has this happened to us in life? We all wanted Norman to win on that final masters and he tried but failed. And then after years of not hearing his name, at one British open well past his prime, there he was in contention and viewers were glued to their sets as we hoped and yelled – do it! Ultimately, he just couldn’t pull it off, but we watched and hoped. It is the trying against all odds that inspires, no? That is what makes a hero, doesn’t it?

By contrast, at 46 years old, back in his day when he was well past what at the time was considered “prime” for a golfer, Jack Nicklaus on a magical Sunday launched a charge at the Masters and beat a group of golfers much younger than he, who each should have won. But on that day, with his son on his bag as caddie, Nicklaus, arguably the best golfer who ever lived, gave us the unforgettable image of a hero finding his magic one more time and closing out the deal. Yessiirrr! That’s how it’s done!

Then we have the challengers who come from nowhere and one day emerge with a chance to make history and win the Open. We all watch as if an everyman (like all of us) has a chance, and suddenly we are all cheering for him – if only to watch him be human. Jean Van De Velde at the British open could have won easily if he just played it safe on the very last hole. Safe? How many of us in life or in our chosen sport have been that guy? No, he hit stupid shot after

stupid shot and looked stunned as he stumbled and failed. The drama, while sad, was riveting… and we watched.

Nowhere do we get so many chances for this drama than in golf…

Tom Watson, another of my favorites, gave numerous efforts past his prime and almost pulled it off at the Masters coming in second, and in the top ten no less, when he had no business being close at his age, and, we were glued to the tv. But no golf drama was as riveting as his British open at the age of 60. There he was on top, and seemed like a youngster at the site of one of his previous British Open wins as a young man. He was in the lead once again. News reports were all about this over-the-hill champion, suddenly finding his youth again and making the run for

glory. People all over the world were tuning in. Grandfathers watched with grandchildren teaching lessons about always believing in yourself and drive and determination. We were all reliving our own past glories. No movie or TV show could give you drama like this. And then, in an instant, it all slipped away… the final hole and the final decision, one mistake and just like that, it was gone. You could hear the screams all over the world, the heartbreak, the hatred for Stewart Cink (Stewart who?) who seemed to win by default, as our hero once again proved to be human. He was interviewed and seemed calm and so centered, as he told everyone it was just a game and he did his best and no one died. He remained humble, while the rest of us wept. We felt the loss; we were heartbroken.

This leads me to today’s British Open as once again drama unfolds, and just maybe, a past his prime golfer may emerge to glue us to our televisions like those others who have before.

Bernhard Langer, a senior golfer, looks good and was almost there and got us paying attention – but the story is really Tiger Woods.

Tiger gave the everyman sports fan a new hero back in his day. He was so much better than everyone else that competitors would wilt at his mere presence. The crowds that followed him were larger than everyone else’s, larger than any ever before. The tv audience was larger as more of us were watching golf than ever before. He singlehandedly brought more viewers, more money, and more young people to the game

than even Arny, Jack, or Norman in their best days. Tiger was known all over the world and his heroics over time were memorable — he won and won and pulled off the impossible time after and time. And he won the big ones, the Majors, more than anyone ever (except Jack whose records he was chasing to pronounce him the best ever) and then, he faltered. After years of no one being even close to his abilities he was proven human. He fell from grace due to personal behavior and lost it all. No one could foresee a time where Tiger would not be the talk of the tournament – of all sports; he was the example to shoot for. He inspired countless others to strive for greatness, and many of the young guys gunning for this championship were watching Tiger when they were kids dreaming of accomplishing what he had. But Tiger vanished from the limelight, and the game, to the point where he was almost unthought of, though not quite forgotten, as he had set the bar. Would anyone be as great as Tiger again? There are contenders, but they have a long way to go…

Here we are today. This is Tiger’s comeback year. We hold our breath as we have seen this before and understand all too well the risk: it is heartbreaking and heartwarming. People who lambasted Tiger for years for betraying our high ideals for him are now coming around as he tries to do the impossible – find the magic again, be great again. Don’t we all want that? Once again tv viewership is up, attendance is up! Tiger is in the field!! And we watch as he sputters and looks human — he is not the superman he once was. His glare and focus while staring the ball down and forbidding it to miss, or carry over a lake, seems to be gone. He seems, well human, like all of us. But he is not human. He is arguably the greatest, and like Ali we want that arrogance and fierceness that makes other golfers wilt. We want to see him regain what he lost. But he is not who he was. He is changed like we all change as we fall and must pick ourselves up again. He seems like a good guy now, joking and smiling, and we are here with him as he tries to be the man in a new way.

As we watch this British Open, while a number of great golfers – the new breed – fight it out, one man is the talk of the tournament. Did you see Tiger yesterday? He put on a clinic? He is in contention in a Major! After ten years, here he is trying to do the impossible — come back from 4 behind the leaders. He will need all his skills, some luck, and maybe the good vibes of people all over the world. And we will be watching again as one of our sports heroes glues us to the TV to see if he, if we, can capture that glory again – even if it is impossible, it is the hope that captures us all.

His playing partner yesterday was interviewed after the round. Many times, years ago, we would see playing partners discuss how hard it is to play well, when they play with him. The sound of him hitting the ball is different, the large crowds hard to block out, his focus is scary and intimidating (think Ben Hogan who was so focused that one big tournament his playing partner made a fantastic eagle, people cheered, and as they walked to the next hole Hogan said “I made par. What did you make?”) Tiger’s playing partner, Shaun Norris, was asked what it was like to play with Tiger (who many believed was washed up) and his answer was… “You know it was quite surreal – Absolutely crazy! How could so many people follow one person? It was like playing with a Mythical Creature – it doesn’t feel real!”

This is why tv sets all over the world are tuning in today. Can he do it? We will have to watch, won’t we? There are lots of stories today and we will see all of them thanks to a Mythical Creature who will make everyone want to see him succeed today. We will get to see all the other stories going on today, other hopes and dreams, because of him.

Only one has earned the title MYTHICAL CREATURE… May the Gods be with you, Tiger!

British Open 2018