Yesterday afternoon, as golf’s greatest tournament was unfolding, it dawned on me why it is, clearly, the greatest game in the world.
Not only can people of all abilities enjoy success in the game – so can people of all personality types. From A-type to complete flake – and everything in between – all can be elite champions in the sport.
About a decade ago, a colleague asked me about Phil Mickelson. At that time, Phil was the best player never to have won a major. The friend asked if I thought Phil would ever be a major champion. I quickly answered, “No way. Guy’s too big of a twit. And, if he did win, he’d never be able to figure out which end of the trophy to hold up.”
What I meant was that Mickelson was way too flaky to ever be able to get his mental act together enough to win. Wrongo. But that’s what I love. Because of how the game is designed, Mickelson can, at times, use his creativity/flakiness/scattered brainwaves to his advantage. Of course, that doesn’t always work. Especially after the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot when, after blasting it into the bush on eighteen, Phil later referred to himself as “such an idiot.” The media loved it! The media loves flakes! How else do you explain Jessica Simpson’s notoriety?
But then Phil can use that to again reach the ultimate pinnacle in the game. His creativity can be both an asset and occasional liability. Only in golf.
Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have guys like Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. Not sure either one of them ever had a random, scattered thought in their lives. Ever. They are both as tactical thinkers as you will find. They, also, are winners. And, the way golf is designed, you get to see right into all these personalities. Unlike other sports, you don’t have pedantic, over-protective media relations people to inhibit the process.
And golf is the only sport in which that broad spectrum of personalities can succeed. With two specific exceptions.
Hockey netminders are renowned for being as crazy as they come. Gilles Gratton (skating onto the practice ice wearing only his skates). Grant Fuhr. Terry Sawchuk. They were all slightly off-centre. Then, there’s Ken Dryden. The Nicklaus/Faldo of hockey. Nothing ever came out of Dryden’s mouth (even today) without it being dissected in his cranium. And we won’t even get started on baseball pitchers (Mark Fidrych, Jim Bunning, John Rocker).
But you show me a flaky quarterback and I’ll show you Ryan Leaf and Todd Marinovich. Nice careers, boys.
Golf is the only sport that, because of how it’s designed, celebrates those eclectic differences. “Champagne” Tony Lema. Doug Sanders. Scott Hoch. Phil Mickelson. I salute you all for finding the one sport that embraces all personalities.