By In Stuff

500 Words on Collapses

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Dustin Johnson looked befuddled by the question. How long did it take him to get over the disappointment? Dude, what disappointment? He played great. Why in the world would he be disappointed?

There is something mesmerizing about sports collapse. You have some of the most wonderful athletes in the world — men and women, born with otherworldly talent, who dedicate countless hours and days to perfect their craft. They are ultra successful, heroes of their hometowns, idols of their neighborhoods. Then, in one dark moment, they became known for failure.

Bill Buckner becomes known for one ground ball through the legs. Scott Hoch becomes known for one putt that does not drop and so does Doug Sanders. Ernest Byner is remembered for one fumble, Ralph Branca for one pitch, Dan Jansen for falling down, Jana Novotna for double faulting a chance to go up 5-1 at Wimbledon, Scott Norwood for fading a Super Bowl kick wide right.

They each handle such luckless ignominy differently, some by avoiding the topic entirely, some by embracing it, some by coming back and securing a resurrecting victory. Dustin Johnson seems to be inventing a new way to deal with such a legacy: He insists that it never bothered him in the first place.

At the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay a month ago, Johnson came to the last hole trailing by a shot. He struck two majestic shots, leaving himself 12 or so feet away with an eagle putt that meant victory. He missed that one. He then faced a 4-footer that would have secured a spot with Jordan Spieth in a playoff. He missed that one too.

It was terrible to watch, and in the moment it felt like a colossal failure, one that would put him in the company of those poor unfortunate souls remembered mostly for one miserable defeat. Except Johnson does not accept the premise.

“Like I’ve said a bunch of times, the U.S. Open wasn’t — there’s really nothing to be upset about,” he says. “I played well. I did everything I was supposed to do. I mean, I was even hitting good putts.”

The greens at Chambers Bay were, by all accounts, atrocious, dead, practically dirt in some places. Johnson’s contention is that on that 18th green, there was no way to control where the putts bounced and kicked: “That ball went wherever the greens wanted it to go, not where you wanted it to.”

There will be those, of course, who call this sour grapes, who will argue that everyone putted on the same surfaces and that if Johnson had a champions nerve, he would have found a way to get the ball into the hole. But isn’t there a larger truth in what Johnson says? He DID play incredible golf. He DID face chewed up and lifeless greens. His final putt DID kick left. People will always try to define you. Question is: Can they define you if you don’t let them?

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8 Responses to 500 Words on Collapses

  1. VTmike says:

    I’m loving the 500 words premise. Don’t get me wrong, I love the long posts too, but I much prefer 500 words that we all get to enjoy, rather than 1500 words that sit in a Drafts folder somewhere

  2. Larry says:

    I can still remember when a 250 word essay in high school was sooooo long. I’m thinking Joe rips off 500 words before his fingers warm up. One more of the many differences between writers and the rest of us.

  3. Chris Harman says:

    The 500 word gimmick is great but how about applying it to the next few entries of the baseball 100.

  4. DJ was right. Even the commentators said the Eagle putt was going to be tough to control Of course, DJ went for the Eagle to win & he missed, so it went four feet by. Anyone that follows golf, knows a four footer is not a gimmee. It wasn’t a collapse, or a choke. It just looks that way when it’s just characterized as a 3-putt from 12 feet. It was an entirely predictable result given the situation and difficulty.

    I always thought Scott Norwood got way too much grief as well. After all, it was a 47 yard field goal, not a 28 yard field goal. Tough kick in a pressure situation. At best, it was a 60/40 make/miss rate for the average kicker.

    Of course, Buckner should never have been on the field in that situation. It was a manager brain fart that didn’t put in a defensive replacement for a guy who could barely bend over because of his bad knees.

  5. Wilbur says:

    “There will be those, of course, who call this sour grapes, who will argue that everyone putted on the same surfaces and that if Johnson had a champions nerve, he would have found a way to get the ball into the hole.”

    I guess he could’ve tried to chip it in on the fly.

    Look, you play your best. Sometimes it’s enough to win, sometimes not. I admire his attitude.

    • Grover Jones says:

      Me too. This is the exact opposite of “sour grapes.” If only we were all so sanguine about the ups and downs of life.

  6. Johnson’s birdie putt was pulled the second he struck it. I doubt the green conditions had anything to do with it.

  7. nycgeoff says:

    It’s interesting to compare the reaction to Johnson’s attitude in an individual sport, where his equanimity is mostly interpreted as brave, to a team sport. Russell Wilson’s post-game comments after the Super Bowl (showing an equivalent equanimity, with some additional Jesus) were derided by many people as showing a lack of passion or competitive fire.

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