Jeff Smith 2:30 p.m., March 4
Pride Cometh Before The Bogey
Golf's most treacherous shot may be the one right after a hole-in-one. You'd swear the Powers That Be validated your parking sticker. You glide in a state of grace and sense radiant unity with the universe.
But maybe the Powers were on a smoke break.
Blinded by your halo, you splatter your next drive into a dark recess, and return the strokes you earned so miraculously, possibly more.
The Greeks called it hubris, the pride before a tragic fall.
In which case, they could rename the Olympic Club, site of this week's U.S. Open, Mt. Olympus Club. Not only does the course just south of San Francisco have a precipitous feel - golfers switchback down and up a tree-infested hillside - leaders of the four previous Opens at Olympic took near metaphysical certitude - i.e. hubris - into the final round.
1955: Ben Hogan walked off the 18th green so convinced he'd won his fifth U.S.Open - which no one's ever done - he handed the ball to Joe Dey, USGA exec., and huffed "This is for Golf House." Then Jack Fleck, a mini-pro from Iowa, played the final four holes two-under and beat Hogan in a playoff.
1966: With nine holes left, Arnold Palmer had a godlike, seven shot lead. Surely the "King" had it cold. Nope. San Diego's Billy Casper made up six shots and then dusted Palmer in a playoff, shooting 66 to Palmer's 79.
1987: Tom Watson led after three rounds. Many swore he'd solved the course's maze-like meandering among tall pines and ball-chomping Monterey Cypress (so many, in fact, the USGA had over 600 trimmed or cut down for this Open). On the last day, San Diego's Scott Simpson chased and ran Watson down in a photo finish.
1998: Same deal. Payne Stewart led the first three days and had that anointed look on Sunday. Then Lee Janzen, who edged Stewart in the 1993 Open, spotted him two strokes with early bogeys and shot four under on the last 15 to win by one.
Four falls, worthy of Sophocles.
But what about New Testament redemption? As others have pointed out, all four come-from-behind winners were Christians who immediately thanked the Lord (Casper and Simpson tithed 10% of their winnings).
Or, less metaphysical but maybe more to the point: the winners locked themselves in the moment and banished thoughts of pantheons and history.
A minor note: I played Olympic Club years ago. Birdied the first hole - then a 538 yard par five; now a 520 par four - and figured whoooo-weeee! Cake City!
I didn't walk to #2 tee. I wafted. The course unfurled, below my feet, under a dark green canopy. To the north a dear old friend, "the City." The vista felt like my domain.
Then then course closed in. Single-file close. Eye of the needle close. Every shot - through chutes of trees, to sloping fairways, to dinky greens - became a spoiled brat demanding full attention.
I ended up with an 87. Not a tragic fall. More a languid trundle. Nicklaus said Olympic Club's a relentless "plodder's course." The routine, the sameness drags golfers down.
Wasn't in my case. The course just had a much better game than mine.
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