Saturday, July 18, 2009

British Open golf - C'mon Watson, win one for us old warriors

Regular readers of this blog can be excused for thinking that the only thing I really care about is politics. While I do admit to being a political junkie, I do in fact have other interests.

One of those interests is sports, both playing and watching. I've played hockey, baseball, basketball, a bit of rugby and some football. I used to play a decent game of tennis and I've even tried curling on one occasion.

But the sport I'm going to be focusing in on for the next couple of days is golf, specifically the British Open. I haven't had my sticks out for a couple of years now, but watching Tom Watson these past two days has me thinking about cleaning them off for a go at the driving range.

Why am I finding this year's British Open so captivating? Well...naturally there's the thrill of watching the world's best golfers challenge for the claret jug at the birthplace of the game. But its more than that this year. This year its about Tom Watson, 59 years young and leading after play on Friday.

Its not just about Tom Watson the golfer, its more about Tom Watson the metaphor. No matter what the sport, I've always enjoyed watching the aging warrior, reaching back into his bag of tricks, trying to sneak one past father time.

I was in Exhibition Stadium the first game knuckleballer Phil Neikro pitched for Toronto. He was somewhere around 48 years of age, up on the mound trying to confound hitters with a flutter ball. He was picked up late in the season by the Jays in 1987 as a fifth starter. That night at the old ballpark something like 40,000 fans showed up to watch him work. I remember him being quoted in the paper the following day, saying something like, "I can't believe that many people came out to watch an old man throw floater balls".

But they did, for the same reason that many people will be drawn to the British Open on Saturday and Sunday if Tom Watson can stay in contention.

Why are we so fascinated? I think the reason is simple, its because we're all mortals. The moment we draw our first breath is the moment we start dying. I don't mean to sound morbid, that's not my intent. But we're all 'on the clock' as it were. Trying to squeeze as much as we can out of the time we have on this Earth.

Seeing someone of Tom Watson's age, competing with men much younger...some old enough to be his grandchildren, its exhilarating. If Tom can do it, dammit so can I...and you, and you, and you. Sure he has an artificial hip, and maybe he hasn't won a major championship in something like 30 years. But maybe...just maybe.

Logic dictates that this is just an aberration, that reality will eventually set in during the final two rounds. But life isn't always logical, sometimes life is spiritual.

The human spirit operates beyond the calendar, it can soar in a 90 year old and whither in a teenager. Age isn't everything, that's something we all know but have trouble believing. You hear it all the time, "age is just a number". But numbers are real and tangible things, and very hard to ignore. Can Tom Watson ignore his age over the final two days?

Golf is a physical game certainly, but more than most other competitive pursuits, its a mental game. Can this ancient warrior forget about his birth certificate and summon up the spirit to contend and possibly win come Sunday? I think he can.

I've played sports, and there have been moments when everything just clicks. When the brain shuts off and its like you're watching the game as an outsider. But its you making an unbelievable pass, a brilliant deke, a perfectly executed shot. That's the spiritual aspect of sports, when you connect with something and find yourself doing things you didn't think you physically could.

Tom Watson seems to understand that, he's quoted as saying that the spirits are with him this year, and I think he's right. I know my spirit will be with him, along with many others. Forget the numbers Tom, just play the game.

For those of you who aren't fans of the game of golf, but who read to the end regardless, I'm going to leave you with a little treat. Its a video of Robin Williams explaining the origins of the game of golf. Chances are anyone who's ever played the game has seen this clip, but if you haven't its priceless.


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