Mr. President & Mr. Watson, Are You Guys Kidding Me?

July 19, 2009
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Brad Eastland

Brad Eastland

by Brad Eastland





      I must be getting old.

      Earlier this week I was sitting around, ruminating on whether I would be devoting this week’s thrilling column to America’s mid-summer classic, baseball’s All-Star Game, or to the Open Championship of golf, a.k.a. the British Open.   So I chose both.   It was obviously a big week in sports, and having these two tasty events on the table is a veritable feast for a sportswriter….Here goes.

      When I was a kid, I don’t think there was a single sporting event I looked forward to more than the All-Star Game.   It’s hard to explain.   I know it’s only an exhibition, and the game doesn’t get your favorite team a ‘W’ in the standings or anything, but there was just something magical about getting to see all your heroes—your personal living gods—all lined up on the baselines during the pre-game introductions.   My favorite player growing up was Willie Mays.   My hero.   For a long time, I thought Willie Mays was God.  

      It just wasn’t the same this year.   It’s been that way for quite awhile for me, but this year was the low point.   It really bothered me.   And I couldn’t figure out why.   I felt….unclean.   Like I was guilty of some sort of silent blasphemy against the Church of Baseball.   I just couldn’t put my finger on it. 

      And then finally, it hit me.

      It was boring.

      That’s right, this year’s All-Star Game was boring.   I never thought that would ever happen to me, where I could be watching any baseball game, much less the mid-summer classic, and be bored.   But I was.   Were you?

      Naturally I’ve got some thoughts, theories as to why the All-Star Game has turned into such a yawner.   First of all, it just doesn’t mean as much.   You can tell.   It’s just too chummy.   Back in the day, the American League literally hated the National League, whereas the far superior National League didn’t hate the American League so much as it merely regarded the aptly nicknamed Junior Circuit with palpable disrespect and contempt.   But baseball isn’t two separate leagues anymore; it’s one big profitable incestuous league.   With free agency and inter-league play blurring the line between the two leagues, and everyone making so much dough, the All-Star Game has become merely an excuse to hang out with your fellow overpaid peeps, bring your camcorder, and watch the Home-Run Derby like it’s a 4th of July picnic or something.   I’ll never get used to watching major league baseball players filming other major league baseball players (especially players on the other team) with their damn camcorders….

      Another reason the game isn’t as great as back in the day is that the players aren’t as great as back in the day.   At least not at the very highest level, i.e. the biggest stars.   A couple weeks ago I was watching some highlights of the 1971 All-Star Game on the MLB cable channel.   It was wonderful.   Made me feel young again, even if just for a few moments.   Mays, Aaron, Clemente, McCovey, Reggie Jackson, Steve Carlton, Yaz and Rose, the two Robinsons, Frank and Brooks (both Orioles, same last name, different races), Johnny Bench, Harmon Killebrew, Kaline, Carew, those splendid speed merchants Aparicio and Brock, “Tom Terrific” Seaver, “Pops” Stargell, high-kicking Juan Marichal (the “Dominican Dandy”, now there’s a nickname), Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Palmer, man….all Hall-of-Famers, all on the same field at the same time.   That’s right, all 21 of those guys from the ’71 All-Star Game are in the Hall of Fame.   Once you get past Albert Pujols and maybe Derek Jeter—and maybe Ichiro, because he only uses one name which is pretty cool—nobody else playing today has that kind of star power.  (I’d mention Alex Rodriguez, except that he didn’t make the All-Star team this year.)   Anyway, in the old days, a great All-Star Game was guaranteed; as sure as the sunrise.   Jackson’s gargantuan home run in the ‘71 game—off the light tower in Tiger Stadium, 520 feet from home plate—was literally the stuff of legend.   Those were the days….

      And finally, getting back to this year’s boring affair, is there a more boring baseball announcer in the entire cosmos than Joe Buck?   Is it just me?   I’d rather watch a bass fishing tournament or an episode of “The Bachelor” than listen to Joe Buck call a baseball game, he’s as dry as the proverbial bone.   Even his interview with the President was boring.

      And by the way, I have to say I was pretty disappointed in the President, regarding his miserable attempt to throw out the ceremonial first ball.   Is that really the best he could do???   I mean the guy is a good athlete, we all know of his basketball prowess, we know he’s in great physical shape, and he is, after all, still a very young man; he’s still in his 40s.   And he said he’d actually been practicing.   Geez, after all that hype I thought he’d rear back, give us a high Marichal-like leg kick, and fire a presidential bullet right smack into the glove of the smiling crouching Pujols.   At least something respectable.   But that sissy-ass lollipop he patty-caked up there was embarrassing.   It floated twelve feet in the air, and fell softly to Earth just shy of home plate, the noble Pujols reaching out and barely grabbing it before it hit the ground to make the Prez look good, uh, make him not look too pathetic.   When interviewed later, the President (ever the politician) made sure to remind us that he didn’t play organized baseball growing up, and that his baseball “moves” probably weren’t “natural”.   Y’think?   Talk about being far too easy on yourself!   Okay, deep breath….journalistic integrity time….there’s only one way to accurately describe the president’s pitching mechanics, my friends….and I apologize in advance for the upcoming sexist remark….

      He threw like a girl.   Our new President throws a baseball like a girl.   There.   I said it.


      Which brings me to the 2009 Open Championship.

Tom Watson

Tom Watson


      You know what?   You know why I love golf?   Because golf never lets me down.   Every major championship seems to come with a wow finish.   I don’t know why.   Maybe it’s because at a major, when Sunday afternoon rolls around, you know that at the end of the day someone’s life is going to change forever.   And with so much riding on every shot, you also realize that there is a good chance that you will see a cool calm professional athlete, or two, or three, unravel and fall apart before your eyes.   Like 48-year-old Kenny Perry, finishing bogey-bogey to blow his once-ever chance to win the Masters three months ago.   Or like Phil Mickelson coming in 2nd at the U.S. Open last month, again, for a record 5th time for Pete’s sake, with his wife getting ready to check into the hospital.   Heartbreaking.   Golf on Sunday, in my opinion, is the greatest theater there is in all of Sport.   It is high drama in pleated pants.

      Happened again Sunday.   They played the Open at Turnberry this year, on the southwest coast of Scotland, a course I myself have been privileged to play on two occasions.  (If enough of you write in to request it, I’d be happy to tell you about the time about twenty years ago I was getting ready to putt out on the 8th green, when perchance I spied a 10-inch-long silvery-slick fish lying directly in my line, whereupon I calmly marked the fish, two-putted, and duly replaced the fish where he originally lay per the rules of golf.)   When you play a course like Turnberry, with the Firth of Clyde lapping lazily against the sand and rocks and Ailsa Cragg a few miles off-shore and rising out of the water like some great gray hump-backed whale, you feel like you have already died and gone to heaven, and that your tee-time has been pre-ordained as a reward for living a good and honorable life.

      Tom Watson turned back the clock in Round One, firing a 5-under 65 to trigger memories of his thrilling “Duel In The Sun”, on this very course, when he bested the great Nicklaus a lifetime ago.   It was 1977.   It was yesterday.   It was the 2nd of Tom’s five Open championships.   And it was also, quite simply, the greatest golf match of all time.   Thursday’s fine round exhumed those memories.  

      Watson wasn’t done.   On Friday, in Round Two, after a slew of bogeys threatened to take him out of contention, “Tom Terrific” (yes, Watson and Seaver share the same nickname) made four long birdie putts coming in, including two pandemonium-producing 50-foot bombs on 16 and 18, to become the oldest man to lead a Grand Slam tournament at the end of any round.   Ever.   When asked what he thought about being able to make two such long birdie putts in the final three holes, the spry, almost sexagenarian Watson replied, “At 59 years old, it’s almost as good as having sex.”   Sexagenarian….didja get that clever play on words there?   A sexagenarian having sex?   Never mind.   Anyway, ‘good to know that Tom is still getting laid, huh.   Too bad we all knew he didn’t have a chance of actually winning….

      Why not?   Why couldn’t Olde Toom (as the Scots affectionately drone) actually win this thing?   Well, Olde Toom is almost 60 years old now, naturally his age figured to betray him eventually.   Right?   Oh sure, he still led after Round Three, but everyone knew he couldn’t win.   We all knew that despite his self-proclaimed ability to still have sex he eventually would wilt in the wind and pressure and performance anxiety of the weekend (at least golf-wise), and finish way down the leaderboard….tom-watson2

      The 4th and final round on Sunday was just great.   Coming down to the wire there were half a dozen guys within three shots of the head.   Including Watson, amazingly.   The putter was a little shaky, but he was still hanging in there.   Of course we all knew he couldn’t win, but, by cracky, I had to hand it to the old duff.   He was sure making it interesting for us fellow 50-somethings.

      Then, almost magically, two or three guys make bogey and fall back in the pack, and after rolling in a birdie on 17 Watson is suddenly standing on the 18th tee all alone in the lead by one shot, needing only to make one more par to claim his 6th Claret Jug as Open champion of the world.   Huh?   Are you kidding me?   And so it was, then, finally, that I allowed myself to believe.   I had been holding back all day, all week, refusing to get sucked into considering even the possibility that a 59-year-old man could claim golf’s biggest prize.   It would have meant that anything in Life is possible, that dreams are alive and well and can come true, even for someone (like me) whose life is way more than half over.   I didn’t want to believe.   But finally I do believe.   I do believe.   I do.   Watson and the moment have seduced me….

      Okay, ‘one more par’ I’m saying aloud to the TV, ‘just one more par’.   Tee shot?   Beautiful!   Right down the middle of the fairway!   Three more shots are you’re home, Olde Toom, dig deep you ol’ sod, dig in, grind!   Second shot?   Sounds crisp, looks good, it’s high, it’s straight, hits the front of the green, it’s headed right for the pin, rolling straight and strong and true, my god!   It’s happening!   It’s not possible but it’s happening!   It’s going to be two easy putts for par, it’s……..…..oops.    It’s a little too strong, rolls off the green.   Well, no one ever said impossible dreams were easy.   (At this point I am writhing on the couch in my bathrobe, and I have to pee.)   No problem, get it up and down, Olde Toom, you’re my new hero, you can do it!   You’re “Tom Terrific”, remember?   Two short little shots and you’re the champ, a quarter century after the last time you won this sublime tourney.   Okay, lag putt, up the slope, just get it close, give it a rap, that’s it, good, looks good, get it close, get it close….shoot.   Eight feet past the hole.   Not too bad, I guess, considering the lie.   Well, this is it!   One putt for the greatest accomplishment in golf history!   It is all literally beyond belief!   Maybe anything is possible, maybe dreams do come true!   Maybe 50-something isn’t old….Just be aggressive, be brave, hit it square, give it a good confident roll my man, give it, give it a….well, suffice to say that Tom Watson managed to hit just about the worst putt I’ve ever seen.   A weak, scared-stiff stroke not at all worthy of his stature, and off-line as well, the ball never coming close to even reaching the front of the cup.   The only really nervous shot he hit all week.   He finally choked.   He finally choked.

      Too good to be true.   Y’see?   I knew he couldn’t win….

      The 4-hole playoff was a suicidal anticlimax.   No suspense at all.   Olde Toom suddenly became the 59-year-old old man he is, spraying shots all over the lot, I think he found every patch of gnarly rough in Scotland.   Blew a couple drives.   Blew a bunker shot.   Blew a 5-foot putt.   Shot 4-over, lost by six strokes.

      Like I was saying earlier; in major championships one guy’s life changes forever, another guy falls apart in front of our eyes when the going gets tough.   Golf never lets me down.   At least it wasn’t boring.   Never is.   In fact, it was downright riveting.   And downright tragic how Tom Watson choked away our dreams in the end.   Heck, I felt like I had lost the tournament.   I can’t believe I let my guard down.      ‘Been a long time since I believed in stuff.   It’s very upsetting.   I’m glad it’s over.   I’m so conflicted.   I could use some drinks.

      (Oh, by the way, the name of the guy who won and had his life changed forever is Stewart Cink.)

      To sum it all up, I guess the point of this column—incredibly—is that somewhere along the rocky road of Life, golf became more interesting than baseball.   When did that happen???

      Like I said.   I must be getting old.


*PS—Hey Joe!    Joe Buck!   Listen up, man, in case you ever read my column….I apologize.   Seriously.   I was just going for the cheap laugh, buddy, ‘no way I’d rather watch an episode of “The Bachelor” than listen to you call a baseball game.   I may be cruel, but I’m not suicidal too.

The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, and sports nut, in no particular order, and yes, on Turnberry’s gorgeous 8th green, he also once moved a fish so that he could two-put for his bogey.

Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :








2 Responses to “Mr. President & Mr. Watson, Are You Guys Kidding Me?”

  1. Eastland you incredible bagger!
    Loved the article on Watson. I uncharacteristically watched the whole thing–who knew golf could have such drama…I must be getting old too.
    Did you know I worked with Tom’s younger brother Marshall in the operating rooms at Stanford mopping floors..
    Call me , now that you have all this time on your hands without R.
    BTW, I thought Peter’s lead article this week was brilliant too.


  1. The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “So what if Jamie is a silly name for a guy….?”

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