Some days, rare days every so often, it’s not a lot of fun being a sportswriter. (more…)
About 25 years ago — sheesh, really, 25 years? — I covered my first Masters. It was, coincidentally, the first golf tournament I had ever covered. I had been hired blindly as columnist for the Augusta Chronicle because, well, you’d have to ask them. I had never played a round of golf. And my only experience as a golf writer was the community golf notebook I would do for York Observer in Rock Hill, S.C., and even that I messed up routinely. I remember once talking to one of the organizers of a local charity golf tournament, and he was explaining to me that it was a Captain’s Choice tournament.
“What’s that?” I asked. He explained the Captain’s Choice format — all golfers hitting and then everyone playing the best ball — and I was so blown away by the novelty of this that I wrote the first eight paragraphs of the column about this cool new way to play golf. An editor (who was, as she often told me, almost oblivious to golf and sports in general) saved me by pointing out that Captain’s Choice is essentially the most popular charity golf format on planet earth and probably all other planets. She found it both hilarious and frightening that I did not know this.
Spent the last week at the Masters … so here are a few links if you are interested (or, I suppose, even if you are not):
WEIGHT OF HISTORY — No one is immune from the echoes rumbling at Augusta National. Not even Jordan Spieth.
WORKING MAN — Tom Watson was the hard one to love. He is private and opinionated and certain … but with a golf club in his hand, he has been a poet.
SCIENCE MAN — Meet Bryson DeChambeau, the young man trying to take on golf with science and golf clubs all the same length.
UNRIVALED — Saturday at Augusta shaped up to be the start of a beautiful rivalry between Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Only … it didn’t happen.
PUTT-PUTT — Ernie Els’ seven-putt was a hard thing to watch. Why does this little golf stroke bring down legends?
FIRST BASEBALL GAME — Mentioned this one earlier — Jack Nicklaus’ first baseball game was legendary. Well, of course it was.
Here’s a fun one — on the first baseball game Jack Nicklaus ever attended.
OF COURSE this was Nicklaus’ first game. It just perfectly fits the life he would lead.
I suspect you will fill up the comment section with your first baseball game. I would hope so.
From Golf Channel: “Of course Jack’s first baseball game was an all-time great.“
My wife Margo has taken to calling Augusta National “the happiest place on earth,” which is strange because Margo neither plays golf nor particularly likes it. One of the quickest ways in my house to get a few minutes of peace is to tell Margo and our two daughters, “Yep, I think I’m going to go upstairs and watch some golf.” Nobody will bother me for fear of accidentally seeing a few seconds of golf on television and promptly dying of boredom. Even the dog leaves me alone.
Still, Margo has grown to love the Masters. This happened last year. It was a big surprise.
When I was a kid — and this is a bit hard to explain — I didn’t know that a person could grow up to be a sportswriter. Yes, of course, I was aware that sportswriters existed. I read them all the time. My first job was delivering the Cleveland Press, and when the newspaper stack arrived, the first thing I would do was tear open the paper and read the sports section. I knew the sportswriters by name. I would wait by the mailbox on Thursdays (sometimes Fridays) to meet the mail carrier who carried The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. I can still list off that Sporting News list of columnists. Joe Falls. Art Spander. Bob Verdi. Larry King, of course.
Oh, I knew what sportswriters did and idolized them for it.
But none of that changed the fact that someone like me could not BECOME a sportswriter.
My Dad worked in a factory. Our neighbors, most of them, worked in factories. Some sold furniture or drove busses or worked in construction. Nobody we knew had an exotic job like sports writing. Well, actually, my friend Jay’s Dad worked at NASA, but none of us (Jay included) knew what he did there. It seemed to have nothing to do with astronauts, and I imagined him somehow having a back-breaking job just like every other Dad I knew.*
*This is an aside, but I always wear a jacket and tie when I go to games. Every now and again people will ask me why I’m dressed up, and I’m kind of embarrassed to tell them — I dress up because my parents fondest hope for me, as I understood it, was that I would get a dress-up job, one where I would NEED to wear a jacket and tie. Of course, they had hoped I would become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or an executive of some kind. Instead, they got a son who dresses up for Golden State Warriors games. It’s something.
In any case, the idea of becoming a sportswriter was far-fetched and silly and not even worth discussing. And we never did discuss it, not once. In my imagination, sportswriters were born into those job, like royalty or being a Kardashian. I mean, how else could they have gotten jobs where they WROTE ABOUT SPORTS for a living? If this was an actual possibility, well, why wasn’t every kid in America trying to become a sportswriters? I mean: To go to games, to talk to the athletes and coaches, what could possibly be better than that? Sportswriters had to be chosen by some kind of lottery system. It wasn’t even something to dream about.
Tom Sorensen was the man who made me dream.
Tom has been a sportswriter for The Charlotte Observer for almost 35 years. He just announced that he’s going to take a break for a while. I’m not sure — Tom’s not sure — if he will come back. He only wanted to say it’s been one heck of a ride.
I’ve known Tom as a hero and a mentor and a friend, but before all of that Tom made me believe that being a sportswriter was possible. I’ll always love him for that. I’m not even sure he knows that story, though I told it to him a long time ago.
My family moved to Charlotte when I was in high school, and I quickly figured out the pace and rhythm of the local newspaper. Ron Green was the poet, the longtime columnist who had lived a sportswriter’s life, who had watched Charlotte grow up, who had been there when Jack first played at the Masters, when Dean showed up at North Carolina, when a young Harmon Killebrew hammered home runs for a Charlotte minor league team. Ron’s columns were perfect little things, beautiful black and white photographs in gold frames.
Tom was the wise-ass.
Of course as a young man, I associated with Tom. He was funny, and he was flippant, and he was sarcastic, and, man, he could really write. He specialized in tough guys — the boxers, the wrestlers, the offensive linemen, the intimidating coaches. I remember he once wrote a column about what it was like when Bob Knight walked into the room. As I remember it, he said it was like when the principal walks in to a classroom being taught by a substitute teacher. I’ve always loved that description. There are a lot of great Sorensen descriptions.
But it wasn’t just reading Tom that changed my life.
No, he changed my life because one day he wrote a mocking column about how he was sick and tired of the Cleveland Browns always being on television in Charlotte. This was obviously long before the Panthers came to town (and long, long before you could watch any NFL game you wanted), and Charlotte was lost in the NFL wild. Most people in town were either Washington fans (about six hours North) or Atlanta fans (about four hours South). So those two teams were always on television.
You will notice, though, that both are NFC teams. Charlotte didn’t really have an AFC team. Cleveland became that AFC team by default. There was a good reason for this: Even now you can’t walk 20 yards in Charlotte without running into someone from Cleveland. See, there was that mass-fleeing of Cleveland — the city’s population in 1960 was 876,000, and and it is now less than half that. Those 480,000 or so people had to go somewhere, and a whole bunch of them came straight down I-77 and stopped in Charlotte.
What I didn’t know then was that The Charlotte Observer office was loaded with Clevelanders, and Tom was probably just busting their chops. But his reason for that evil column didn’t matter; I about lost my mind. I was a Cleveland kid who had come to the South largely against my will, and the one redeeming quality of Charlotte in those days was that the Browns were always on TV. Tom was ruining it.
“You should call him,” a friend of mine said.
“Nah,” I said.
“No, really you should.”
I did. I called him. It completely went against my character … I was painfully shy then and scared to death to of just about everyone and everything. I guess the possibility of losing my Browns on television pushed me over the edge. I dialed the paper, asked for Tom, and they transferred me. And he answered the phone.
That’s all I remember. He answered the phone. I don’t remember what he said or what I said or what the conversation was like. I’m sure it was typically Tom but what he said didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Tom answered the phone. He talked to me.
He was a real person.
And that changed everything for me.
So silly, right? I know, it makes absolutely no sense, but it’s like an entire world opened up. Before talking with Tom, the idea of being a sportswriter literally would not have occurred to me. Have you seen that preview for the new Kung Fu Panda movie — the Jack Black panda runs into an adult panda.
“I’m looking for my son,” the other panda says.
“I’m looking for my father,” the Jack Black panda says.
And it never occurs to either of them that they are looking for each other. That’s what sports writing was for me until I talked to Tom. Then, suddenly, it became a possibility. Heck, my new friend Tom did it, right?
Such small things can turn lives. If I had not talked to Tom Sorensen that day that I’m not sure I would have had the guts to write a letter to the sports editor of The Charlotte Observer asking for advice. And if I had not written that letter, I would not have gotten the chance to cover high school games for $20 bucks a pop. And if I not covered those high school games for $20 bucks a pop, I would not have gotten an internship at the paper, and if I had not gotten an internship I would not have been hired to be the worst agate clerk in the history of the paper. And if I had not been such a terrible agate clerk, I might not have gotten the chance to write for the paper.
And so on and so on.
In the years since, Tom has affected my life in many more conventional ways, mostly with his kindness and advice and example and, once, for making a terrible fantasy baseball trade that made my team better. He will deny the last part. But it’s true. It’s all true.
So, if you’re a Peanuts fan, you might remember that for a time Peppermint Patty believed that she was an angel put on earth to pass along one specific message. The message? “If a foul ball is hit behind third base, it’s the shortstop’s ball.”
I’ve often wondered, as many have I suppose: What is my message to the world?
And I think it’s this: Athletes ALWAYS age faster than you think they do.
OK, it’s not exactly that kinetic energy equals mass times the speed of light squared or that brevity is the soul of wit or that Soylent Green is people but it’s the best I’ve got. It just seems like people keep refusing to accept that athletes in all sports — every single one — fade so much more quickly than you would expect them to. This is particularly tough to accept in baseball and golf, two sports where there is little violence* and numerous examples of older players beating the odds.
*Aside from an occasional John Daly club throw into the ocean.
In baseball, the unwillingness to understand how quickly players decline has cost teams billions of dollars. GM’s will keep signing 30-somethings with the hope and expectation that they will perform more or less like they did in their younger days. This is baseball’s definition of insanity.
Three years ago, I asked this question: Which duo of baseball players would you rather have for the next five years, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton or Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez? I emphasized the point by adding that money is no object: I was simply asking which would be the better duo for five years, Pujols and Hamilton or Hosmer and Perez.
The question seemed so stupid at the time that, well, you can read some of the comments if you want. At the time, there was so much buzz about the Angels acquiring the two former MVPs. Pujols had been the best player in baseball for a decade. Hamilton was thought by many to be pretty close to that level when healthy. Few knew who Hosmer and Perez even were.
Well, we’re only three years into the deal — the turn happened even faster than I thought it would:
Pujols and Hamilton: 11 WAR, 1 All-Star appearance.
Perez and Hosmer: 17.7 WAR, 3 All-Star appearances, 5 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series appearance.
Hamilton has already been dumped. Pujols is having something of a renaissance season because he has 30 home runs, but it’s a facade: He’s now a defensive liability (after being a great defender), and his on-base percentage is down to .312 — he has basically become a one-dimensional home run hitter. Meanwhile Perez is probably the best catcher in the American League and Hosmer is coming into his own at age 25. If you asked the question now, the answer would be even more obvious than it was in 2012 — and it would be the opposite answer of 2012. Bet on youth. Always bet on youth.
This premise of aging fast is even more controversial in golf. I’ve written about this so many times that, yes, you’re undoubtedly sick of it. But the message just isn’t getting out there. Again and again, there are stories and analyses and comments asking WHAT’S WRONG with Tiger Woods? And people just refuse to accept that there’s nothing wrong with Tiger Woods. He’s 40 years old or will be in a few months. And this is what happens.
Take a look at these two charts. First will be the golfers who have won the most majors through age 35. The second will be the golfers who have won the most majors 36 and older.
Most Majors through age 35
1. Tiger Woods, 14.
(tie) Jack Nicklaus, 14.
3. Walter Hagen, 10
4. Tom Watson, 8
5. Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, 7.
Bobby Jones is obviously a tricky one because he actually won six U.S. and British amateur championships that were considered major in his day. But you get the point.
Most majors 36 and older
1. Ben Hogan, 8
2. Sam Snead, 5
3. Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Phil Mickelson, 4.
You will notice only one player makes the Top 5 of both lists — Jack Nicklaus. It is what sets him apart. But it goes beyond that. Now, let’s give you the first list again, but in parentheses I’ll show you how many majors those golfers won after age 35.
1. Tiger Woods, 14 (0)
(tie) Jack Nicklaus, 14 (4)
3. Walter Hagen, 10 (1)
4. Tom Watson, 8 (0)
5. Arnold Palmer, 7 (0)
(tie) Gene Sarazen, 7 (0)
(tie) Bobby Jones, 7 (0)
Other than Nicklaus, who reinvented himself after 35, these top golfers won a combined ONE major championship after they turned 35. Yes, they had different circumstances (Jones retired, for instance). But Byron Nelson never won one after 35. Seve Ballesteros never won won after 35. Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo won one each after 35. Of the greatest golfers, the only two who were great on both sides of the 35-year line are Nicklaus and Gary Player. And Player is famous for being, essentially, unbreakable.
Tiger Woods’ real issue, when it comes to catching Nicklaus on the all-time majors list, isn’t what he’s doing now. He lost the race when he didn’t win a major championship in 2009, when he was 33, then after the scandal didn’t win majors at ages 34 and 35. That was when he physically could still win. He finished top six six times then. He did have a real shot at 36 to win the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham — he entered the final day a shot ahead of eventual winner Ernie Els. But Els, who is six years older than Woods, shot 68 on the final day. Tiger shot 73, and that was that.
Though Woods has talked about how he has given himself many chances to win majors since then, he really has not. He made an illegal drop at the 2013 Masters and finished fourth (many thought he should have disqualified himself) and he entered the final day of the Open Championship that year just two shots back, but he never sparked on Sunday. Since then, he has missed more major championship cuts (4) than he has made (3).
And sure, you can talk about his many swing changes. You can talk about how he won five regular tournaments in 2013 and made it back to No. 1 in the world. You can talk about how there are moments, sometimes nine-hole stretches, occasionally even entire days when he looks like the old Tiger Woods. But these are the illusions that keep us thinking that the years are standing still. And they are just that: Illusions.
The swing changes are the sign of a man whose body is breaking down — he can’t swing the club like he once did, and he keeps looking for remedies. Getting back to No. 1 in the world in 2013 was nice, but it was a paper title at best — you can’t truly be the best golfer in the world if you are not winning majors. Heck, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have also been No. 1 in the world. And the short stretches where he looks like the young Tiger? Sure, they’ll keep happening. You know what? There are times still when Tom Watson looks like the young Tom Watson, and he’s turning 66 next month. It doesn’t last.
People keep wanting to make this about some mystical thing in the desperate belief that Tiger Woods will someday turn on a switch and become great again. Well, people have been looking for that switch since a guy named Juan Ponce de Leon. Tiger Woods can keep practicing, keep adjusting, keep searching for his feels, keep trying to find the bottom of his swing, keep working on his alignment and all that but in the end, he’s 40 now. This is who Tiger Woods is now. People want to talk about how he has 10 more years of being competitive; they’re just kidding themselves. Maybe with practice and a new focus and a shift in his thinking he might at some point become competitive again, and if he can become competitive again there’s a chance he can have a magical week or two. But even if that does happen — and the odds are against it happening — he will have to find a way to compete as an older golfer not as the Tiger Woods we once knew. This is not a new story. It’s the oldest story going.
It was sad watching Tiger Woods flounder at the Open Championship last month, and it was sad watching him stagger and stumble at the U.S. Open the month before that, but something felt different about his third straight major championship missed cut this week at the PGA Championship. This time, it felt a bit more ceremonial somehow. Yes, he still cursed up a storm after bad shots, and he still looked frustrated, and his self-evaluations still seemed somewhat separated from reality. But he was introduced as the 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007 PGA Champion. Fans gave him a few standing ovations. There was a “let’s appreciate what Tiger Woods has meant to us” vibe.
And it reminds me of when I went to the eye doctor a few weeks ago. The doctor said, “Congratulations. You have hit bottom.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said: “Your eyes have now lost 100% of their ability to focus. That’s it. You have zero percent capacity for focus now. This is what happens when you get to be our age.”
I looked at him (or tried to — I can’t focus) and asked why he offered congratulations.
“Well,” he said, “it can’t get any worse.”
Tom Watson played his final round at The Open Championship on Friday. He finished as darkness covered St. Andrews. As he reached the Swilcan Bridge, I noticed that every single person reached for a camera of some kind. I fumbled for my phone, pointed in Watson’s general direction. This is what I got.
As you can see, it’s out of focus and blurry and looks more like a painting than a picture. I think that’s why I like it. I think I’m going to get it blown up and framed. First photo I’ve ever felt that way about.
You might remember this: Nobody wanted to let go of Mike Tyson’s career. I have made the argument — to much disgust and “what you know about boxing couldn’t fill a business card” dismissiveness — that Tyson was an overrated fighter. I still believe that. He came up at a time when there really wasn’t a good or great heavyweight in the world, and he was brought along very carefully and to maximum effect.
But that doesn’t change the basic facts. He got to 27-0 by knocking out mediocrities with jaw-dropping Looney Tunes punches. Then he elbowed Trevor Berbick silly, destroyed an over-the-hill Larry Holmes and annihilated a blown up light-heavyweight Michael Spinks, who did not look like he wanted to be there. Tyson had tremendous punching power, and he had an aura of menace that made the toughest men around shiver. He began his career 37-0.
And in a larger sense, it wasn’t Tyson’s fault that there really wasn’t an Ali to his Frazier or an Ezzard Charles to his Marciano. He fought the fighters put in front of him, and clubbed them mercilessly, and it was one heck of a show. Who in boxing history captivated and bewitched and generally frightened America the way Mike Tyson did. George Foreman? Sonny Liston? Do you have to go back to Rocky Marciano?
Then, twenty-five years ago, a generally uninteresting fighter named Buster Douglas — who had lost to guys named David Bey, Mike White, Jesse Ferguson and Tony Tucker — went to Japan and bludgeoned Iron Mike Tyson. Like a lot of other people, I remember exactly where I was that night: in my apartment and wearing my jacket because I was going out to meet some friends as soon as the fight was over. I expected it to last roughly 43 seconds. Only I never did go out. Instead, I sunk into the chair and watched, jaw wide open, as Buster Douglas pummeled Tyson round after round after round. I know people call the Buster Douglas victory one of the greatest upsets in sports history and by definition that is right. Tyson was a 42-to-1 favorite. Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected the fight to last three rounds, much less for Douglas to win it. So, yeah, it’s an all-time upset.
But, in a different way, it wasn’t actually an upset at all because: Douglas was a better fighter than Tyson. This wasn’t a guy landing a lucky punch or a fighter getting a unfair decision. If you had aliens from the plant Zutron watch the fight, they would say: OEJDNEONVE, which means, “That Buster fellow is the superior fighter.”
And that’s different from a typical upset. Think of the great upsets (U.S. hockey team defeating the Soviets in 1980; Rulon Gardner over Alexandr Karelin; Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan at the U.S. Open; Robin Soderling over Rafa Nadal in Paris; No. 16 seed Harvard over Stanford in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and a hundred others). They are notable because you know that if the competitors faced off 10 times, the favorite would probably win nine.
This wasn’t the case with Douglas and Tyson. If they fought 10 times, exactly as they were that night, Tyson might have won some by catching Douglas with a big shot and knocking him out. Tyson almost did it that night. But Douglas, I feel sure, would have won more. He was the better man. It was as if the U.S. Olympic Hockey team didn’t just beat the Soviets, but crushed them 7-3.
Tyson came back from the Douglas fight by doing what he liked to do — knocking out mediocre fighters. He took out a weak-chinned cruiserweight named Henry Tillman in one round and England’s Alex Stewart, also in one round. He then fought two wars with a decidedly not mediocre fighter, Razor Ruddock — the first fight was close and seemed to be stopped too quickly and in the second Tyson broke Ruddock’s jaw. Then Tyson went to jail after being convicted of rape.
We are finally getting to the point here. When Mike Tyson came out of jail, many people wanted to believe he was still the fighter they remembered (it should be noted that many also believed he should not be allowed to fight). He had made boxing interesting, made every fight an event.
When he came out and destroyed a tomato can named Peter McNeeley, then beat the heck out of Buster Mathis, Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon (the last for a championship belt of some kind) the comeback seemed complete. Mike Tyson once again seemed to be the most dangerous man in the world. When he was set up to fight an aging and fading Evander Holyfield – who had lost to Michael Moorer, gotten knocked out by Riddick Bowe and had some sort of heart condition — there were widespread concerns that Holyfield could get permanently and irreparably hurt. Tyson, it goes without saying, was the prohibitive favorite.
Thing is, Evander Holyfield was a different class of fighter from the guys Mike Tyson had beat up his entire career. Holyfield was an all-heart warrior with skill, and he completely outclassed Tyson. There were a couple of accidental head butts that marred the fight, but all in all Holyfield was faster, stronger and, shocking to many, the harder puncher. The fight was stopped in the 11th round. Tyson had been knocked all over the ring. Like in the Douglas fight, there was no question who had been the better fighter.
When Tyson fought Holyfield again seven months later, Iron Mike was again favored to win by most people. Why? We had just seen Holyfield make hamburger of Tyson. But this was Tyson’s gift and curse; people just kept waiting for him to unleash the irrepressible force that had marked his early career. Instead, of course, Tyson was unhinged. In the third round, he bit Holyfield’s ear, was somehow not disqualified, so he bit off a piece of Holyfield’s other ear. He had gone mental. Nobody could watch that display and believe Mike Tyson had anything left as a boxer.
But people did believe. People just kept on believing. Tyson splattered a few more Lou Savareses and Brian Nielsens and actually got himself another championship fight, this time with Lennox Lewis. “I want to eat your children,” Tyson had said to Lewis in one of those prefight things, and I can actually remember there were STILL people who thought Tyson would unleash the lion. There was no lion. Lewis toyed with Tyson and then, when the time felt right, eliminated him in the eighth round with one of the more savage knockouts of 2002.
And STILL Mike Tyson fought, and STILL some people thought he might put a boxing career back together. He did not. He ended it all getting knocked out by men named Danny Williams (who would get knocked out TWELVE TIMES in subsequent fights) and Kevin McBride (who would lose six of his next eight fights). Tyson actually quit in the McBride fight. Tyson then went on with the rest of his life, the crimes and misdemeanors and face tattoos and Broadway shows …
People kept believing in Mike Tyson long after there was any reason to believe. Why? There’s a comedian out there (wish I could remember who to give credit) who does a joke about people who think Elvis is still alive. “Yeah,” the joke goes, “because it’s hard to believe that someone who took such good care of himself would just die like that.” I think it has something to do with what happens to our minds when we see something that is literally awesome – something that sparks feelings of awe and wonder and even fear. You can’t get that image out of your head. You can’t believe it will end, no matter how hard reality smacks you in the face.
That’s what I think is happening with Tiger Woods now. Yes, that’s the point of all this. Woods has not won a major championship since 2008 but people keep expecting him to win the next one. The guy has changed his swing repeatedly for years but people keep expecting him to suddenly find the one that makes him young. The guy has had injury after injury but people keep expecting the body to be lithe and flexible all over again. Again and again people talk about how Woods — if only he can get his pitching touch back, find a swing that allows him to drive the balls straight, stay healthy and clear the mental cobwebs that have gathered the last few years – can be great again.
It makes no sense. Tiger Woods is 39. Most of the great golfers were not only done by 39, they were LONG done by 39 – Palmer, Watson, Ballesteros, Nelson, Sarazen, Jones and dozens of others. And it’s not like you can say Tiger Woods is a young 39. He’s been swinging golf clubs since he was three. He has been in the public eye since he was a teenager. He has been through one of the nastiest public scandals in recent memory. He has been one of the world’s most famous people for a long time.
His last two tournaments were agonizing to watch – there were the pitching yips in Arizona and the back-bracing drives a week later. He scored his highest score ever on the PGA Tour and he walked off the course in the middle of a round and talked about how his glutes did not activate. And people still talk about him winning the Masters, you know, if he shows up.
Call it Tysonography, our refusal to believe that even the most extraordinary talents fade quicker than we expect. There are a lot of “What’s wrong with Tiger Woods” stories out there right now, and some of them are interesting, but I still suspect they miss the point. Nothing’s wrong with Tiger Woods except that he’s human and he’s fading and it’s the most obvious thing in the world but, like with Mike Tyson, we willfully refuse to accept it.
Ten years ago, Billy Casper stalked his putt on the last green at Augusta National, a tricky five footer for double bogey, and the putt meant nothing while meaning everything. In the gallery was Shirley, his wife of more than a half century. In the gallery were 17 other Casper family members — some of his 11 children, some of his many grandchildren (when he died Saturday at age 83, there would be 71 grandchildren), some of his friends. They were there to see Billy Casper’s last Masters.
There were also reporters there, almost 100 reporters. I was one of them, and to be painfully honest we were not there to cover Billy Casper’s last Masters. We were there because Casper needed that last putt to score 106, the worst score ever recorded during the Masters, a score so high that many of the reporters (not me) could have beaten it.
Billy Casper never did get his due. In the 1960s, golf was dominated by what was then called the Big Three — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — but for a time, Casper was better than all of them. For three years, from 1968-1970, Casper won more tournaments than Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. Combined. He was a genius with the putter. In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, he trailed Arnold Palmer by seven shots with nine holes to go. He tied the score with combination of brilliant play (he shot three-under on the back nine) and Palmer’s collapse (Arnie shot four over). Casper then beat the King in a playoff.