The 2011 Players: Phenomenal…and Forgettable

Posted: May 16, 2011 in golf, Players Championship, sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’m going to give to you straight, which is something I always try to do.

I couldn’t find one media person, including myself, in the media center at The Players on Sunday who was pulling for K.J. Choi to win. For that matter, there weren’t many pulling for David Toms or even Paul Goydos. Go ahead and tell someone what jerks we media types are; how cynical we are.

Let me also point out that I can’t imagine anyone employed by the PGA Tour who was pulling for Choi, Toms or Goydos. I have absolutely no proof of this and I am absolutely certain not one member of the Tour staff from Commissioner Tim Finchem to the overnight security guards would ever admit to it publicly.

There I said it, and, yes, I do feel like a cynical jerk.

If you haven’t flicked off your computer by now, I beg you to keep reading and let me try to explain why I’m putting such a negative spin on what was truly a wonderful, entertaining weekend of professional golf on the First Coast.

Of course there were many, many positives.

Choi is a deserving champion. The 40-year-old South Korean has had a solid career, winning eight times and having six top finishes in major championships. He was tied for 8th in last month’s Masters. He hits fairways and greens with incredible consistency. He is an above average putter. No one was as steady in The Players as Choi and as gracious after winning $1,710,000 and the most important tournament of his career.

Toms would have been a deserving champion. Until he messed up the par-5 16th Sunday because of a bad decision to go for the green in two, he had maintained or been close to the lead since his opening 66. Toms, 44, is a major champion (’01 PGA), a 12-time Tour winner and, like Choi, a picture of consistency on the golf. He hasn’t won in more than five years, but he appears to have regained his game, inspired by his 13-year-old son Carter who plays golf. His birdie on the final hole to force a playoff is the most clutch in the history of The Players. His 3-putt bogey on the first playoff hole, the infamous par-3 17th island hole, was heart breaking to watch but Toms handled it with grace.

Perhaps the only Tour player who rates higher of the “good guy” scale than these two is journeyman Goydos, who finished third and was preparing for a playoff until Chio birdied 17 and Toms birdied 18. The 45-year-old Goydos, a two-time Tour winner who lost the ’08 Players in a playoff to Sergio Garcia, is fondly and sarcastically nicknamed Mr. Sunshine because of his constant sad sack facial expression and self-depreciating sense of humor.

Add to this mix great theater, Chamber of Commerce weather and a near-record crowd of enthusiastic fans, and 2011 Players couldn’t have been better.

Yes, I can hear you screaming it.  “SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM, LAMM??”

The problem is Choi’s victory, Toms’ grace in defeat and Goydos’ challenge will fade from our memories. What do you really remember about Tim Clark’s victory a year ago? Or Henrik Stenson winning in ’09?

In the world of celebrities, Choi, Toms and Goydos are dull. They’re everymen. You’d want them as neighbors or weekend playing partners, but they’re as forgettable as the movie you saw last month. Whether or not we realize it, we want flash and dash in our athletes, even those of us who say we don’t. Chicks do, indeed, dig the long ball. We want crashes in our car races. We want bombs in football, slam dunks in basketball, knockout punches in boxing. We want 45-40 football scores. How many of us really enjoy great defense in any sport? It’s an offensive world. Choi, Toms and Goydos are defensive golfers. Fairways and green. Steady and prodding doesn’t sell.

For too many sports fan The Players was a battle of 40somethings. Three nice guys playing what is often criticized as a non-athletic sport.

The Tour is waiting, impatiently perhaps, for a group of long-hitting, athletic-looking young guns to step up the big stages and win. Or at least a group of winners to keep piling on victories, particularly in the biggest events.

This year’s Players teased us with a lot guys from those groups. Long-hitting Nick Watney, 30, took the lead with three straight birdies out of the shoot, but he faded before the turn. Bubba Watson had rounds of 66 and 68, but he also threw up a pair of 76s and was never a factor. Flashy and talented Ricky Fowler missed the cut. The last two U.S. Open champions began the final day seemingly poised to add to their resumes, but third-round leader Graeme McDowell and Lucas Glover folded, disappearing from the leader board faster than you can say K.J. Choi. McDowell’s 79 was the worst score in the final round. Glover’s 77 matched 54-year-old Mark O’Meara’s as the second worse. Luke Donald looked ready to take over the world’s No. 1 ranking, but he prodded along and shot a closing 71. Top-10 golfer Steve Stricker offered no challenge. Phil Mickelson was never a factor.

There was so much promise for this Players to be special, the kind of tournament that would build onto the golf audience. It delivered, in the end, two talented and good men who deserved what they got.

Sure, they deserve more, like our adulation, but that isn’t the world we live in. And , yeah, that’s a shame.

  1. Wyman Stewart says:

    I am sure the local Korean community was proud to see Choi win. Maybe the entire Asian community of Jacksonville smiled when he won. Maybe the 40-something crowd enjoyed the outcome too. It’s said, “Variety is the spice of life.” Maybe spice this year, hype next year.

    By the way, before I continue. I enjoy good defense in baseball, basketball, and football. In fact, the Jaguars missing defense was the kill-joy of the team this past season. No defense in golf, so maybe that’s why, as in the NBA, the game is built around the individual star. No doubt a mistake for the NBA; maybe a necessity for golf. Maybe someone can invent team golf with an offense and defense.

    You’re crying because Tiger came up missing. Well, David, open golf up fully to Boomboxes, Gangstas, and some real shooting rounds, then golf will get real exciting. People may be glued to their TVs for golf “action.” Golf is a game of rich, white, college educated, sophisticated, business-inclined, non-glamour types. “Good guys” as you called them. Bored? Golf is played by the Borg. Resistance is futile in golf. In basketball Michael Jordan can fool around on his wife, gambles, etc. and they cut him all the slack he needs. Tiger fools around, is maybe clubbed by his wife, and now he must be Borg-erized. You want exciting golf, you gotta make the changes to let it be exciting.

    Naw, I’m not interested in golf. Know Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and other Oldies, but couldn’t tell you what they won and when they won it. Could care less. Give me a break, David. Talk about real sports here before I stop reading. Golf is dull.

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