I will be watching the United States Open Golf Tournament from the best seat in the house this weekend- my living room. But there was a time Congressional was an annual tradition for me and it conjures up some great memories.
Before the abomination known as Avenel Country Club came into existence, Congressional was home to the Kemper Open Golf Tournament, the PGA’s only stop in the nation’s capital. It used to be broadcast by CBS, which I worked for at the time, so I used to get press passes and would alternate spending time on the course and hanging out with the CBS Sports crews in their trailer/studios.
The Golden Bear
I once got a ride in a golf cart with Pat Summerall and got more than a few grins watching the taping of a Ken Venturi chipping lesson at Congressional’s 18th green (the par-4 peninsula green). Trust me…they don’t do it in one take. But, to Venturi’s credit, it only took him three tries to chip to within about five feet of the hole. About a dozen of us spectators and the CBS ENG crew gave him a standing ovation.
I saw Freddie Couples win his very first golf tournament. It was memorable for the endearing spectacle of his first wife, a tall gorgeous blonde, running to the green with her arms open to crush him in a bear hug.
But the highlight of all highlights was following Jack Nicklaus on a magical round in which the Golden Bear notched six birdies in a row. For one of them, I totally lucked out and just happened to be positioned at a fairway trap on the back 9. Jack hit right into it, right in front of me.
So now I accidently happen to be in the front row of the huge gallery that was following him to watch as he tried to keep the birdie streak alive hitting out of sand about 160 yards away from the green. Nicklaus hit an absolutely amazing shot, landing about ten feet from the hole and made the putt. You could hear the roar for miles.
The Old Tiger
My only U.S. Open experience was at Bethpage State Park in New York two years ago. It was a soggy, muddy, hilarious adventure. My girlfriend, Millie and I, positioned ourselves on this hill that overlooks the 18th tee and the 17th green. It’s a very, very steep hill. After a couple of days of rain it had turned into a quagmire. As group after group of golfers would play through, spectators started slipping in the mud. I remember one guy, dressed in pressed white shorts, smoking cigars and looking every bit a close friend of Tony Soprano, as he started listing to the right. Having seen a couple of others topple, we could see it all happening in slow motion. Someone even yelled out, “There he goes!” And he plopped right into the mud as the ground gave way beneath him. So much for the pressed white shorts. He fell a few more times as he tried to get up. It was so much fun.
Then, lo and behold, THE group marched to the 17th tee- the one that included Tiger Woods. Tiger hit a shot that went considerably right of the tiny par-3 green and landed in super-thick U.S. Open rough. He was not a happy camper. This was the old Tiger- the one who still used to win tournaments and cursed up a storm after errant shots. He could barely see the ball. He positioned himself and took a whack at it. Three bounces and into the cup. Birdie. Tiger magic. Roar from the gallery. Tiger fist-pump and wide smile.
Neither Nicklaus nor Tiger won on the two days some 15 years apart that I was fortunate enough to watch them work their magic but that does not matter. Magic is magic, whether it’s part of a winning effort or not.
He looks lost. His driver is leaving the ball in the woods. His irons are leaving the ball in sand traps and rough. The man who used to make 45-foot putts can’t hit from 8 feet. Seven times he won at Firestone. He is in 70th place.
What everyone assumed would be the inevitable Tiger Woods assault on Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles now seems like an impossible mountain to climb. I don’t know exactly what Elin did on that fateful Thanksgiving night in Florida, but I don’t think it had as much to do with an 8-iron as it did with kryptonite or some kind of very effective voodoo.
The human psyche is a complicated thing. Is he subliminally punishing himself? Does he need three different women a week or he loses his powers?
I think it’s control. He has lost control of his life, first personally- then professionally. His wife left him. His swing coach left him. If there was one overriding aura around the old Tiger, it was a man very much in control of everything; from his golf stroke to, apparently, his secret life. Now it is gone. All gone. It is as if the Gods waved their wands from Olympus and transformed him from one of their own to a mere mortal.
In the days after he withdrew from the The Player’s Championship back in May and Tiger’s coach quit on him, Jay Marioti at Fanhouse.com wrote a an insightful piece on the decline of Tiger Woods that had the ring of truth.
He pointed out that at 35 years old, Tiger’s not only getting physically creaky- the famous Tiger Zen has vanished:
Assuming he can piece himself back together and enter events, Woods has provided no evidence that he can regenerate the magic of yore. His physical problems now include the knees, Achilles, back and neck — body parts urgent to a golfer’s well-being as he swings, walks and thinks on his feet. Mentally, his marital life is headed to divorce, with speculation mounting daily about what type of child custody he’ll retain, if any. All of which is pounding at his very soul. Time was when we thought nothing could invade the steel-trap psyche of Eldrick Woods, son of Earl, heir to Gandhi and Mandela. These days, he’s half the golfer he used to be, and maybe one-tenth the man.
I remember what Tiger used to be as a golfer. When he was the best the sport had ever seen. We were witness to something truly special. We took the magic and the greatness for granted week in and week out. We had ten years of it but it still feels rather fleeting.
Tiger Woods is still alive, but it feels like little by little, we are all writing the very sad obituary of one of the greatest athletes of our times.
Well, if there is a God, we clearly know where he stands on family values. Phil Mickelson was all things Tiger Woods was not. He was centered, focused, and because of the difficult circumstances of their lives- totally immersed in the concerns of his family; namely a wife and a mother both battling breast cancer.
If it were a morality play- and it was- the good guy won on Sunday in Augusta. At the conclusion of his stirring victory, Phil and his wife began the longest hug since Al Gore made out with Tipper at the Democratic convention in 2000. But it was a sweet, emotional moment that underscored the stark differences with the other guy who fought the lonely battle on the course; the guy without the wife and kids there to cheer him on.
After his five-month self-imposed scandal hiatus, Tiger performed admirably. To finish in the top 5 after gathering that much rust is truly impressive. But there were great lapses in his game and they appeared to be mental not physical. The most notable was the routine, no set-up, gimme putt he blew on Sunday. I had never seen him non-chalant his way to a bogie.
Saturday, after a couple of days of glad-handing the crowds and pinching the cheeks of cute little 3 year-olds on Daddy’s shoulders, Tiger returned to his ornery on-course comportment. Microphones picked him up yelling “God Damn it” loudly after a blown approach shot. Sunday he tried to dial it back but a loud “Jesus Christ” escaped from his lips after another errant shot.
Note to Tiger: The whole Buddhism thing is great- but to get back in the good graces of the waspy, American golfing public, I would stay away from insulting their Christian God or using his only son’s name in vain. Enough commandments have already been broken.
Asked what his future plans are, Tiger told CBS Sunday that he’s taking a break to reassess things. Good- because he’s not there yet. Tiger is an incredible shot-maker and competitor but his magic has always been more the mental discipline and emotional zen that has been an equally important part of his game.
He clearly compartmentalizes. No one could perform as well as he did at The Masters without that psychological skill. What’s ironic is that he may find the golf and family thing actually go together and need not be compartmentalized. When he finally figures out who he really is, when he gets his family back, when he’s truly centered as a human being- that’s when the real Tiger will have returned.
Until then, he will be a really talented golfer who continues to be an obviously damaged man.
Tiger’s holding his own at -4. In fact, it’s his best Master’s start ever. But Fred Couples and Tom Watson are 110 years old! And they’re at -6 and -5 respectively in 1st and 2nd place after the 1st round at Augusta. I think I like the geezer story line even more than Tiger’s steely, remorseful return.
Tom Watson, who very nearly won the British Open last year, is 60 years old. Fred Couples, who I saw win his 1st tournament at the Kemper Open at Congressional 27 years ago…is 50.
I’m feeling young again.
The Nike ad featuring Tiger’s dad is rather interesting. Nike capitalizing on sorrow and human frailty. With Tiger’s permission. It’s been reported that Tiger’s father was a bit of a philanderer himself- but never mind.
And Billy Payne, the Chairman of the Augusta Country Club, took Tiger to the woodshed Wednesday for his “egregious” behavior. Interesting as well. Egregious as Tiger’s antics have been, how long was it before a black man played at the Masters at all? Let’s see, the first Masters, known then as the Augusta National Invitational, was played in March of 1934. Lee Elder teed off in April, 1975. A little over 41 years.
Elder, by the way, rented two houses in Augusta that year so the people who were threatening him with hate mail wouldn’t be able to find him easily.
Morality, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
In our increasingly scattered and diverse digital world, in which everybody marches to their own drummer, the Tiger Wood’s apology last Friday morning was one of those exceedingly rare TV events that turned into a communal experience shared by billions of people around the country and the world. Every major network ran it live like it was the President of the United States announcing a major international incident.
If you really think about it, it was theatre of the absurd. People across America gathered in their offices paying rapt and occasionally mocking attention to this: a golfer saying he was sorry for failing to control his sexual impulses. Yeah, I know it wasn’t just a golfer. Every time I think of Tiger’s infidelities I flash on that Nike commercial of kids saying, “I am Tiger Woods.” He actually did set himself up as a role model. And he happens to be the greatest athlete of our time. But it was still a golfer apologizing for screwing around. Considering the massive televison audience alone, we have definitely plowed new ground here.
Tiger seemed quite sincere and appropriately chastened. But the props were strange. Mom sitting in the front row. Business associates and friends gathered somberly as if they were at a funeral. The tough-love hugs at the end.
I liked the part where Tiger came home again to his Buddhist upbringing. I took this as a direct slap at Brit Hume of Fox News who suggested recently that if Tiger converted to Christianity all would be forgiven. This is going to be very educational for Brit. What if it turns out people can forgive a Buddhist? Yikes.
And really, really…Erin didn’t take an 8-iron to the SUV?
Ah, so many questions, so few answers.
For the past several weeks, writers and editors at various media outlets, wire services, newspapers, magazines and web sites have been busy little beavers, compiling their lists of the big stories of 2009. As a helpful guide, I have superficially scoured the web for some of these lists, point out some of the highlights and offer a few links to make it all convenient for you.
The grand-daddy of them all is the Associated Press list of the top ten stories of the year as voted on by U.S. Editors and News Directors. The #1 story was the tanking and slow recovery of the American economy.
THE ECONOMY: Despite a $787 billion federal stimulus package, much of the U.S. economy continued to sputter throughout the year. The jobless rate topped 10 percent, scores of banks failed, the federal deficit tripled to a record $1.4 trillion, and stocks fell to their lowest levels since 1997 before rallying. Yet investment banks’ profits surged, triggering public anger and efforts in Washington to crack down on Wall Street bonuses.
For the kiddies, Scholastic.com puts the Obama inauguration at the top of the list:
A Historic Inauguration
On January 20, Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. President—and the country’s first African-American chief executive. Obama’s swearing-in ceremony drew a record crowd of 1.8 million people. That made it the biggest event ever held in Washington, D.C. The crowd stood for hours in freezing cold temperatures to witness the event. “We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” the new President told the nation.
The Twitter World
Reuter’s rounds up the top ten “weird” twitter stories of ’09. Topping their list is one man’s compulsive tweeting- including this live, breathless account from his own wedding:
Standing at the alter with @TracyPage where just a second ago she became my wife! Gotta go, time to kiss the bride” is how Dana Hanna kept the world posted between “I do” and that kiss.
Politico.com offers an interesting list of top ten tweets of 2009. At the top, Newt Gingrich’s tweet for which he later apologized in which he called Supreme Court nominee, Sonya Sotomayor a racist:
“White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” Gingrich tweeted. He was incensed over Sotomayor’s comment about a “wise Latina” being able to make a better decision than a white male because of her life experience.
But several days later, Gingrich hit the rhetorical “delete” button. “My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct,” Gingrich said in a Web posting. He regretted calling Sotomayor a racist. Gingrich had done a 180 — within 140 characters.
And though not a tweet, Sarah Palin’s famous Facebook entry on health care “death panels,” simultaneously enraged some and caused others great glee:
Here’s the meat of Palin’s post on Facebook: “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”
On the Medical Front
The Harvard Medical School’s top story for 2009 is about a story that has turned out not to be a story- the H1N1, Swine Flu pandemic:
After the first several weeks of uncertainty, most of the news about the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic has been reassuring. Much of that has to do with the nature of the H1N1 virus itself, which spreads easily and makes people sick, but so far rarely in a life-threatening way. And the word pandemic is misunderstood: a disease is considered pandemic if it has spread globally and affects a larger-than-usual proportion of the population. The disease needn’t be severe.
But a major reason for the calm has been the measured public health response. Plenty of information has been made available (this is the first Internet-age pandemic). A vaccine was developed and put into production, although shortages are a serious concern. Health officials gave us simple, concrete things to do to protect ourselves and others: cough and sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands often, get vaccinated with both the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines, stay home if you’re feeling sick.
This wasn’t the flu pandemic that the experts were expecting. For years, they’ve eyed the H5N1 bird flu virus circulating in Asia to see if it would mutate and become transmissible among humans. Instead, H1N1 emerged in Mexico with a complicated quadruple pedigree: two strains of swine flu, a human strain, and a bird one. Hospitalization and death rates from the new virus have been high in healthy young adults and quite low in people older than 60. One explanation for that pattern is that older people may have some immunity left over from exposure to a previous version of H1N1.
In the World of Sports
The Los Angles Times’ #2 sports story of the year was Tom Watson’s improbable bid for another British Open title, which really was a nearly-great moment in sports history:
Jack Nicklaus was home watching — for the first time in his life, he says — an entire round of golf on television. Tom Watson was watching the flight of his eight-iron land right where he wanted it to on Turnberry’s 18th green . . . and then inexplicably keep rolling and rolling until it eventually trickled off the green. He putted down the slope from the collar and was left with a putt that would have made him the oldest player to win the British Open . . . by 11 years. He missed and lost a playoff to Stewart Cink. “It tears at your gut,” Watson said, but quickly told crestfallen reporters, “This ain’t a funeral, you know.”
The New York Daily News’ top three sports stories were Tiger Wood’s infidelities, Alex Rodriguez’ steroid admissions and, of course, the New York Yankees 27th World Series title.
Computer World’s #2 story is Microsoft’s launch of Windows 7, the new computer operating system that replaces the atrocious Vista OS:
Microsoft launches Windows 7 — we can all move on now
On Oct. 22, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage in downtown New York at the lead event for a somewhat — for the software giant — soft-edged launch for Windows 7. Ballmer presided over a day of speechmaking and sales promotions in cities worldwide. But the events were on the whole smaller than the usual major Microsoft launches. The scaled-back hoopla and the marketing mantra of “simplicity” fit Microsoft’s characterization of the new OS — above all, faster and more straightforward to use than its predecessor, Vista. That much-maligned OS was plagued by hardware compatibility problems, slow performance and annoying system alerts. The older Windows XP, as of the Win 7 launch, was still being used by more than 70 percent of computer users. Microsoft, no doubt happy to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter in its history, says Win 7 is being adopted faster than Vista.
Celebrities and Wannabe Celebrities
E-online has a first place tie for its entertainment stories of the year. It’s Tiger and the death of Michael Jackson.
Something called TVSquad.com has a list of the top TV reality show scandals of the year. Balloon Boy was #1 and coming in 4th and how could anybody’s list be complete without them- the notorious White House party crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi.
Special Bonus List
Saving the best and most lascivious for last, HuffingtonPost.com lists and has a gallery (that shows nothing, by the way) of the top sex tapes of the decade (excuse me- but how 1990’s):
Paris Hilton wins top honors.
Tomorrow…helpful links to lists of the best stories of the decade of which the above item was but a mere tease.
♦ The week starts off with a bang that quickly becomes a whimper. President Obama invites the heads of American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo to the White House for a stern lecture on how those who have received so much from the taxpayers might want to start thinking about actually giving back a little. Three of the executives miss the meeting because the NY-DC Shuttle is fogged in at La Guardia. So much for respect for the Presidency. Couldn’t they have spent the night before in Washington? I understand Amtrak has a fine train service from Penn Station to Union Station. They did call in, though. How considerate.
♦ The Climate Change conference in Copenhagen gets crazy as developing nations quarrel with developed nations, protestors get rowdy and consensus on much of anything begins to melt like the polar ice cap.
♦ The global consulting firm, Accenture, ends its six-year relationship with Tiger Woods saying he’s no longer “the right representative” for them after the events of the past couple of weeks. Gillette begins backing away too.
♦ Something’s fishy at the Waterbury and Wallingford, Connecticut Post offices; seems managers there are so overwhelmed by the amount of holiday mail they’re being inundated with- that they’ve taken to hiding it. Workers get caught stuffing letters, cards and packages into closets and unused rooms. The problem has now been corrected.
♥ The Sun newspaper publishes an exclusive photo of Elin Nordegren (Mrs. Tiger Woods) filling up an SUV at a gas station. There’s something missing. The wedding ring on her left hand.
♦ The Medicare buy-in dies an ignominious death. Independent Connecticut Senator, Joe Lieberman, says he won’t support it even though just three months earlier he had been taped by a local news organization in his state as saying it was a reasonable alternative to a public option. He tells the New York Times he began to get suspicious of the plan when liberal, Democratic NY Congressman, Anthony Weiner, said he loved it. Note to liberals: next time there’s legislation you need passed through the Senate, pretend you hate it.
♥ President Obama, campaigning for tax credits people can get for weatherizing their homes, declares that insulation is “sexy.” I suppose that can be true depending on who’s doing the insulating and what they’re wearing.
♦ Uh-oh. Can it possibly get any worse for Tiger Woods? The New York Times reports the doctor who treated his bum knee last year is under investigation for giving human growth hormone to some of his patients. Tiger’s agent tells people to back off- he’s never used performance enhancing drugs. Apparently, the doc visited Tiger’s home on four different occasions to perform a procedure in which a patient’s own blood is put through a centrifuge to separate out the platelets that are then injected to an area of injury to promote faster healing. The PGA backs Tiger and releases a statement saying that they’ve seen nothing in the reporting that would indicate he’s been in violation of their anti-doping policies.
♥ Considering the consensus that Tiger really would be finished if it turns out he used PED’s, finally, some welcome news for Woods. He is now tied to mistress #14. Yawn.
♦ Time magazine names Federal Reserve Chief, Ben Bernanke the Person of the Year for saving the American economy. Millions crowd the streets as the chanting starts out quietly at first, then into a full roar, “Bernanke, Bernanke Bernanke!” Kudos to Time, though. Instead of picking somebody interesting like Sarah Palin or Tiger Woods or Joe Lieberman, folks who might actually sell magazines- they go for the one guy guaranteed to put you to sleep at the mere mention of his name. Readers be damned- who needs ‘em!
♦ Politico.com reports that New York Democratic Senator, Charles Schumer, called a flight attendant a “bitch” as the DC to NY shuttle was about to take off earlier this week. Seems he was delaying the pull-back from the gate by talking on his cell phone. Obviously, the stewardess had no idea who she was dealing with. There is not a human being alive who has ever succeeded in getting Charles Schumer to stop talking.
♦ The Associated Press names Tiger Woods- Athlete of the Decade.
Thursday, December 17, 2009:
♦ New polling is out from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. The basic results- A pox on both their houses. Support for Democrats has plummeted but the numbers are not translating to Republican gains. What an opportunity for a legitimate 3rd party candidate. Lou Dobbs- take out the hair spray and straighten that tie.
♦ And the numbers show Americans aren’t so thrilled about health care reform either. Only 32% say it’s a good idea; 47% think it’s a bad idea.
♥ A new poll also finds 42% of Americans now have a negative view of Tiger Woods. Clearly, we are in need of a new 3rd party golfer of some kind. What’s Ron Paul’s handicap?
♦ The heavyweights begin arriving at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton says the U.S. will participate in the creation of a $100 billion global fund that poor countries can use to adapt to climate change. It’s predicated on China presenting plans on how they will cut carbon emissions. The Chinese agree to a dialogue. The first glimpse of progress. Nations are now talking about talking in the future.
♦ Lots of news from the NFL. Sad, great and weird. Cincinnati Bengal’s wide receiver Chris Henry dies after falling out of the bed of a pick-up truck in an apparent domestic dispute. The Washington Redskins get rid of an inept General Manager and hire the son of the legendary George Allen. The St. Louis Rams cancel practice as numerous players come down with the H1N1, Swine flu virus.
♥ ABC News quotes sources as saying Elin will 100% divorce Tiger.
Friday, December 18, 2009:
♦ President Obama addresses the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. This was the site of the humiliating experience when Chicago was turned down as the choice for the 2016 Olympic games.
It is now the site for the humiliating experience of no significant action he is seeking being taken to address global climate change. I confidently predict it will be a long, long time before Obama humiliates himself in Copenhagen again. There is a late update on this story. No legally binding agreement- but some headway made as the President literally burst into a meeting of Chinese and other international leaders and forced them into at least an agreement that recognizes there’s a problem to be dealt with and prompts what amounts to voluntary agreement to reduce carbon emmissions. Not a total humiliation after all. But I still don’t think he’s going to back to Copenhagen any time soon. Too many painful memories.
♦ Avatar hits the theatres; all 2 hours and 40 minutes of it. Good reviews abound. More details emerge on what a ground-breaking film it is; 15 years in the making and involving the invention of new technologies like facial recognition cameras that enable human emotions to be uncannily portrayed by animated characters. A 3-D experience that immerses audiences into a completely foreign and highly textured world instead of the usual stuff-coming-at-you-from-the-screen-making-you-feel-like you-need-to-duck approach. It’s long hyphenated sentences like this that doomed my career as a film critic.
♦ Finally, I completed my Christmas shopping! My son, Charlie Garcia, arrives in New York for the holidays next Tuesday and I have just been named head of the Newscast division for National Public Radio, starting in February. Merry Christmas, Charlie- Daddy has a job.