Who’s Next?

By Randall MellJune 11, 2011, 9:47 pm

Who’s going to blow it at Congressional Country Club?

Who’s going to squander a chance to win the U.S. Open?

Who’s going to walk away from the year’s second major championship with the most scars?

They are nasty questions, to be sure, but they’re relevant given the cruel nature of major championship golf.

No sport humiliates its best players in its biggest events the way golf routinely does.

Sure, in baseball, you get a bouncing ball through the legs of a first baseman that flattens a man’s spirit beyond a World Series the way Bill Buckner’s error cost him and the Boston Red Sox in 1986 . . .

In football, you get a wide open receiver saddled with the scarring memory of dropping a touchdown pass the way Cowboys’ tight end Jackie Smith did in a Super Bowl loss in the 1978 season . . .

In basketball, you’ll see a flustered player like Michigan’s Chris Webber calling a timeout his team didn’t possess in 1993 to blow a shot at a national championship . . .

But the profound nature of those individual failures isn’t nearly as routine as it is in golf.

Just look at the last 12 months in majors.

At last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, there’s the image of 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson burned into the brain, with Johnson turned around on Sunday, miserably swiping left-handed from the junk alongside the second green on his way to a triple-bogey 7 and final-round 82.

There was Johnson, again, at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, blowing his tee shot wildly right at the last hole with a chance to win, his errant shot screaming onto a hill where he infamously grounded his club in a camouflaged bunker. The jarring nature of it overshadowed the memory of Nick Watney blowing a three-shot lead with an 81 that same day.

And then there was Rory McIlroy squandering his four-shot lead at the Masters, the disorienting image of him back between the Peek and Berckmans cabins after ricocheting his tee shot off a tree at the 10th hole. His triple-bogey 7 there led to an 80.

If there was a Hall of Infamy in golf, it would include so many more members than the Hall of Fame.

That’s because failure is disproportionately meted out in this solitary, lonesome sport.

One man will win at Congressional, and in the starkest terms, 155 will lose.

“Golf is the most assaultive sport on the sense of self that there is,” Preston Waddington, a therapist specializing in the psychology of shame, told me after the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills. That’s the championship that ended with Stewart Cink and Retief Goosen looking like the gang that couldn’t putt straight at the 72nd hole. That’s the year Cink missed an 18-inch putt, a stroke that could have gotten him into a playoff with Goosen missing a 2-footer right behind him. Waddington began working with Cink after that.

“At any moment you can be exalted in golf, and the next feel like you're the biggest piece of cow crap on the face of the earth,” Waddington said. “Golf is a very shaming sport. Every single golfer I've dealt with is scared to death of being shamed. You touch on that with a player, you have their attention.”

For every winner of a major, there are a dozen men who felt like they could have won, should have won, who feel like they lost the championship.

The game’s biggest names aren’t spared.

Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper with nine holes to play at the Olympic Club in the 1966 U.S. Open. Sam Snead needed a par at the final hole at Philadelphia Country Club to win his first U.S. Open in 1939 and made triple-bogey 8. The leader going into the final round of the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury, Snead shot 81. Greg Norman famously collapsed with his six-shot lead at the 1996 Masters. Jean Van de Velde melted down at the final hole of the 1999 British Open. You could go on and on.

The U.S. Open, more than any other major, feels like it’s about who’s going to lose more than it’s about who’s going to win.

The tone was set in the very first competition back in 1895, when Willie Campbell made a sextuple-bogey 9 in the final nine holes to blow a chance to win.

The U.S. Open is the proverbial “War of Attrition,” the major that’s all about rewarding the players who make the fewest mistakes.

With the narrowest fairways in major championships, with the deepest rough, the U.S. Open doles out failure in especially heavy doses.

The risk of blowing it, of failing spectacularly in the spotlight, of choking, gagging and collapsing . . . that’s what makes those final, dramatic moments so compelling in the majors. Whether you admit it or not, you’ll likely be watching to see who loses the U.S. Open as much as you’ll be watching to see who wins it. It’s the nature of the test.

Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open defending champion, arrives at Congressional to defend his title dealing with the angst of having shot a final-round 79 to blow a chance to win The Players Championship last month and having shot a third-round 81 in his failed title defense at the Wales Open the week before last.

“It’s just the craziness of this sport, you never really know what’s around the corner,” McDowell said.

Failure will be waiting in more abundance at Congressional than success. It’s the nature of major championship golf.

Getty Images

Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Joburg Open

Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Sharma among three Open qualifiers at Joburg Open

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:16 pm

Shubhankar Sharma earned his first career European Tour win at the rain-delayed Joburg Open and punched his ticket to The Open in the process.

Sharma returned to Randpark Golf Club Monday morning after storms washed out much of the scheduled final day of play. Beginning the re-start with a four-shot lead, he hung on to win by three over South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen.

Both men can make travel plans for Carnoustie next summer, as this was the second event in the Open Qualifying Series with three spots available for players not otherwise exempt who finished inside the top 10. The final spot went to Shaun Norris, who tied for third with Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen but had a higher world ranking (No. 192) than Pulkkanen (No. 197) entering the week.

The Joburg Open was the final official European Tour event of the year. The next tournament in the Open Qualifying Series will be the SMBC Singapore Open in January, where four spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 6, Dustin Johnson

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:00 pm

Only Dustin Johnson could win four times in 2017 and it still feels as though he underachieved.

That’s unfair, perhaps, but it’s a testament to Johnson’s awesome ability – and his incredible run of form last spring – that observers can’t help but shake the feeling that his year could have been even better.

In February, he rose to the top of the world rankings for the first time, the culmination of a long, bizarre journey in which he often battled himself (through major blunders and, reportedly, drug-related suspensions) as much as his peers. Johnson’s blowout victory at Riviera was his first of three consecutive titles (including two WGCs), as he achieved Tiger-like levels of dominance and rolled into the Masters as the prohibitive favorite.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

Expectations for this star-crossed talent are always different, and so the surprise wasn’t that he blew that major but that he didn’t even give himself a chance. In one of the biggest stunners of the year, Johnson’s manager announced on the eve of the first round that his client had suffered a back injury while slipping on a set of stairs in his rental house. Just like that, the year’s first major was thrown into chaos, with Johnson unable to play – the line of demarcation in his good-but-not-great year.

Though he added a playoff victory at the end of the season, Johnson failed to factor in any of the remaining three majors and was surprisingly inconsistent, perhaps because of swing compensations after the injury.

Would DJ have denied Sergio Garcia a green jacket? Would he have created even more separation at the top of the world rankings? Would he have defended his Player of the Year title? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

In typical DJ fashion, he left us to ponder what could have been.

Johnson becomes world No. 1, starts season with three straight wins

Article: Johnson officially ascends to No. 1 for first time with Riviera win

DJ on reaching No. 1: 'It's been a long journey'

View from the top: How long will DJ stay at No. 1?

Article: DJ's star once again shines brightest at WGC-Mexico

DJ on win: 'Means a lot' with the pressure of No. 1

DJ breaks it down: How No. 1 won WGC-Mexico

Video: DJ withstands Rahm's rally to win WGC-Match Play final

DJ on beating Rahm: 'I didn't give him anything'

Johnson: 'I definitely didn't play my best today'

Johnson enters Masters as odds-on favorite, withdraws after falling down stairs

Article: After uneasy warmup, DJ withdraws from Masters

Article: Johnson installed as Masters betting favorite

Article: DJ injures back in fall, hopes to play Masters

DJ on Masters WD: 'Want to play ... it sucks'

DJ: 'I was playing the best golf of my career'

DJ welcomes second child with fiancée Paulina Gretzky

DJ, Paulina welcome baby boy before U.S. Open

It's a(nother) boy! DJ-Paulina's gender reveal

This and that: DJ and Paulina in 2017

DJ, Paulina make new music video on ski vacation

DJ, Paulina unwind with Bahamas vacay

DJ: 'Absolutely' no input on Paulina's social media

Watch: Paulina shows off pretty swing at TopGolf

Johnson adds fourth win of season, blows chance at fifth

As good as it gets: DJ-Outduels Spieth at Northern Trust

Johnson's HSBC collapse surprising, but not major

DJ beats Spieth in playoff to earn fourth win of year

Burr: 'For a great win there is an epic collapse'