Growing up I played in something called the Cape Cod Junior Golf Association. It gave young kids a chance to play on dozens of local courses, and get a taste for competitive golf.
Every Saturday your parents would drop you off at the pro shop. Then, armed with some hand me down clubs, and brand new Titleists that we snagged from our dad’s bags, we would be on our own. Most would seek out friends, while others set out for the practice green to work on their short games.
I don’t remember a single round of golf from my days in the CCJGA, but I remember that feeling of independence. I remember how exciting it was to be out there on the course, acting like our dads, or our favorite golfers, carrying our own bags and responsible for our own scorecards.
I also remember how much I hated the two kids who always won.
I can still recall their names, the mere mention of which causes me to mutter angrily under my breath. There was nothing wrong with Mike Flynn or Kenny Lewis. Actually I didn’t really know either one of them, so it would be more accurate to say that I had no real reason to dislike them other than the fact that they were at the top of every leader board, every Saturday.
It got to a point where everyone was gunning for third and fourth place, as if first and second were like our parents liquor cabinet, and they were never out to dinner long enough to sneak in and do any real damage. The absence of Mike or Kenny at the practice green sent a wave of excitement through the rest of us. When a mini-van would pull up just before their tee time, everyone would fall back into just here to have fun since there’s no shot we are winning mode.
The most important lesson that I learned from the CCJGA was that no one likes someone who is constantly kicking their ass. Especially in a sport like golf, where you are out there by yourself, and where a centimeter can mean the difference between greatness and a club tossing madness. It is one of the only sports where you can do your absolute best, play a flawless round, and still get beat.
I can’t imagine all of us sitting around before the tournament was even over, and saying how happy we were for the guy who was beating the shit out of us.
So how were a group of professionals, who compete for huge chunks of cash, instead of the prestige that comes with having your name in the sports section of the Cape Cod Times, gushing over Rory McIlroy as he lapped the field?
I think the answer has a lot to do with McIlroy, but I will get to that in a minute. The reason most of these men, and everyone in the media, are fawning all over him like a fourteen year old at a Justin Beiber concert is because he is not Tiger Woods.
Tiger came in and destroyed the competition, and we loved him for it. We loved watching greatness, and imaging the limitless potential of a 21 year old who had no visible chinks in his Nike armour. But even from the beginning, Tiger was a robot.
No one came out and embraced Tiger, and the man whose records he was chasing, Jack Nicklaus, seemed especially put off by Tiger’s demeanor. Let’s face it, no one wants to hug a robot, except maybe Vicki from Small Wonder, but that’s neither here nor there.
No one who was getting beaten by ten strokes every called Tiger “a great guy”, as we heard time and time again about McIlroy this weekend. The field would have been just as awed by the display of talent, but if it had been Tiger, the sound bites would have been about ignoring the scoreboard, and the man atop it, in order to go out and play some good golf.
Before the third round started, the men behind McIlroy were already handing him the trophy. More than that, they seemed to all want to be the guy who gave it to him. Maybe it was more about what he didn’t do, than what he did do, but when Tiger came out he turned people on the PGA tour against him.
Rory McIlroy turned them into a bunch of pre-pubescent girls with a crush, all hoping he would hear their words and maybe even look at them once or twice.
After The Masters I applauded McIlroy for the way he handled his collapse on Sunday. The guy hit a shot that went so awry that no one, in the history of The Masters, had ever hit a ball there before. He shot an 80, a score that even a hacker like me could manage on a really good day. But when it was all said and done he walked off the course with his head held high. Had it been Tiger no one would have dared to ask a question.
Rory McIlroy has some serious game. He also seems to have a steeled resolve that is rarely found in a twenty two year old, the short memory that you need to be great, and an affable personality that even Jack Nicklaus is enamored with. Nicklaus offered McIlroy advice this weekend and it has been reported that the two have become fast friends.
There is an age old question; whether it is better to be feared, or loved.
Tiger was great, and may still be again someday, but he was feared.
Rory McIlroy grabbed great by the balls at Congressional, and based on what we saw this weekend, it’s a lot better to be loved.