- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
That's really the issue. The players have a couple dozen weeks a year in which they may pay for their Jet Skis and enrich their unborn grandchildren. They have four weeks a year to make their names glitter forever. Their families know it. Their peers and their public know it. And they know it. This judgment business is a heavy load.
Dufner, who at the 2011 PGA blew a five-shot lead with four holes to play and lost to Keegan Bradley in a playoff, knew what he was playing for, even as he tried to block it from his mind. "The crowds [at majors] are bigger, and the courses are tougher," Dufner said on Sunday night. "You know where you're at. You try to act like it's not a big deal. But it's a pretty big deal."
And who made it a pretty big deal? Bobby Jones did. Jones and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Clifford Roberts. Grantland Rice and Dan Jenkins. The New York Times and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and their subscribers. CBS, the BBC, Golf Channel, ESPN. Officials at the USGA, the R&A, the PGA of America, Augusta National, the faces changing but the message staying the same. The marketing arm of the sports-industrial complex is at work on the players' heads in ways they couldn't possibly know. Poor guys.
Fox just agreed to pay the USGA $95 million a year for 12 years beginning in 2015 to broadcast the U.S. Open (and a handful of other USGA events). You know what that means? The U.S. Open just got way, way harder to win. (The old rights-fee number was $40 million a year, NBC and ESPN combined.) Why will it be harder? Because Fox will want some figurative fruit from its $1.1 billion investment. Which means the network will sell the national championship like the old June event has never been sold before. Some of that Fox money will go to the players. But their nervous systems will pay for it. The higher the stakes—history, money, status—the more the nerves jangle.
Nobody will be immune, and nobody is. One of the predictions after Scott's victory at Augusta was that now the major floodgates would open for him. Last month at Muirfield and last week at Oak Hill, in the thick of it, he played weekend shots that were flat-out duffs. Remember that pitch shot at 13 on Sunday that did not sniff the green? The Konica-Minolta BizHub SwingVision Camera will show you what went wrong, technically. But you'd have to study a real-time Adam Scott brain scan to know what really happened.
Even Woods is not immune to these pressures, external and internal. It's now painfully obvious that he cares about how he judges his own golf career, how we judge him and how history will judge him. Since his last win in a major, at Torrey Pines in 2008, Woods has played in 51 ordinary Tour events—not majors—and won 14 of them. A staggering ratio. In the last two years alone, he has won four times in his last event before a major, which would suggest his game was peaking at just the right time. And yet since his win at that U.S. Open on one leg five years ago, he has played in 18 majors and won none of them. That is not a statistical anomaly. That's a head case. He will never admit it publicly. There's no upside. The golfer must be both hyperrealistic and conveniently delusional.
Dufner knows what he has gotten himself into. He was asked on Sunday night about what will be different now, now that he has won his first major.
"It's definitely going to change my life, but I'm determined that it's not going to change me," he said. "It's going to be a difficult task."
Insightful words from the cleanup hitter as this year's excellent major season draws to a close. You get the feeling Dufner could actually win a second major. But it's going to be a difficult task.