Hawk's Nest: While we're young, Tiger and Phil


When my wife and kids weren’t looking, I spent much of Father’s Day in front of the bathroom mirror, clutching my neck and pleading “While we’re young!” in repeated attempts to sound like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack.” It was a total waste of time, however. When it comes to impersonations, call me Rich Very Little.

While we’re young?

Are we talking about speeding up pace of play or Phil Mickelson winning a U.S. Open?

That’s six runner-up finishes, of course, this time in Fail-a-delphia, a loss Mickelson described as tougher than any of the previous five. So what if Justin Rose became the first Englishman to win the national championship since 1970? Once again, heartbreak reigns across this great land, but if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, some leave us hanging, others show us guts.

Rose rallied to beat Mickelson in a crucial singles match at last fall’s Ryder Cup – the bomb he made for a birdie at Medinah’s 17th was the biggest putt anyone holed all year. Now this. All from a guy who had once blown more 54-hole leads without a victory than anyone on the PGA Tour. A guy who didn’t win in this country until midway into his seventh full season.

What struck me about Mickelson’s latest runner-up showing was the way in which he ended up there. He’s normally a fairly average iron player who converts more mid-range putts (eight to 20 feet) than maybe anybody. At Merion, he hit his irons better than I’ve ever seen – and didn’t take advantage of what seemed like countless scoring opportunities.

While we’re young? Hey, you never know, but only Hale Irwin (1990) has won a U.S. Open at a more advanced age than Mickelson is now. On Lefty’s 43rd birthday, it turns out he couldn’t have his cake and win it, too. And you thought that jet ride back to San Diego for his daughter’s graduation was long …

FOR SOME STRANGE reason, “Caddyshack” has held onto its standing as an American movie classic, a cultish gem despite its pathetically thin script and quadruple-bogey ending. Not just the stupid gopher thing as Carl Spackler blows up the course to rid it of varmints, but the part just before that, when opposing players in the big match are actually seen sharing a putter.

Is that not a violation of Rule 4-4b?

The winning putt is struck by Danny Noonan – take a look at the condition of the green in that last scene. It’s almost totally dirt, leaving me to wonder why they chose such a cruddy spot on which to film this pivotal moment. Wealthy guys like Al Czervik (Dangerfield’s character) would never join such a dump. Spackler should have detonated the place on account of its lousy shape alone.

Don’t tell me rodents were responsible for leaving Bushwood CC in such an awful agricultural state. That would have entitled Noonan to a free drop under Rule 25-1b/19. Not that I’m a stickler for authenticity or anything, but no wonder the sequel was such a bomb.

SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. DON’T take me seriously. I loved “Caddyshack” the first 77 times I saw it. And if my friends at the USGA don’t show a sense of humor when they set up U.S. Opens, the bluecoats have made some pretty good commercials over the years. The boy who makes a hole-in-one but (almost) nobody sees. The two guys sitting on a bench under cover, waiting out a torrential downpour.

“While we’re young!” is another big winner: a campaign with a purpose, a message delivered with a lighthearted twist. It’s a combination that can leave an imprint, and at last, somebody is trying publicly to defeat slow play. My favorite WWY is the one where the snail heads off to the beverage cart and orders an Arnold Palmer, then runs into the King himself. The one with Tiger Woods and the kids doesn’t really work for me, but at least Woods got involved.

How about we show the entire series of ads to every competitor at next week’s U.S. Women’s Open?

SO ELDRICK ALMIGHTY fails again in his quest to win a 15th major title. If no news = good news then old news ≥ no news, good or bad. I’m not sure we’ll ever get to a point where Tiger’s performance isn’t a primary topic of discussion – he looked out of sorts from the very start at Merion and was quickly felled by an inadequate short game.

On several occasions over the course of the week, it struck me that Woods looked unprepared to pull off shots this difficult venue was asking him to execute. Did he play enough holes during the practice rounds? Did he hit enough different shots on the holes he played? It got me thinking – and looking stuff up.

• Tiger has won 16 times since the start of 2008. All but one of those victories (the ’08 Match Play) occurred on courses where he’d won before.

• Twelve of those triumphs came at places where Tiger has turned winning into an industry: Torrey Pines (three times beginning in ’08), Bay Hill (four), Memorial (twice), Congressional, Firestone and Doral. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with winning the same tournament over and over, but in those five-plus years, only last month’s victory at The Players would qualify as something of a surprise.

• Since he plays a very similar schedule every season, Tiger doesn’t play many events on courses where he’s never competed. The majors are an obvious exception; three of them move around. While Woods could seemingly win three or four times a year with his eyes closed, simply by visiting his favorite haunts, he looks like a different guy at places he hasn’t been.

Merion certainly qualified – Woods had never played the course until just recently. In the old days, Red Shirt was a relentless on-site practice presence. I’m not absolutely positive he isn’t now, but the evidence might help you form a conclusion.

THE GOOD NEWS, at least for Tiger, is that one of his corporate sponsors (Rolex) featured him in a non-golf television commercial for the first time since his personal life unraveled in late 2009. Nike has continued to use him, obviously, and Woods made a cameo in a Swoosh spot for a skateboarding shoe during that stretch, but the Rolex ad represents old ground rebroken.

It’s a cool commercial, too, with Sir Eldrick walking through a museum-like hall adorned with oversized portraits of golf’s greats. Wristwatch companies really love pro golfers, seeing to the compatible demographics and all, and I suppose you could make a case that the Hydrant Era has been over long enough for someone to use Woods to peddle a product.

It’s a much less risky decision than to wear those octopus pants Billy Horschel had on Sunday.

OK, I’LL ADMIT it. There was a time this spring when I found Horschel to be just a few feet higher than over the top. The cocksure disposition, the physical theatrics, the look-at-me factor in general – I’m a golf fan, too, and Horschel got off to a bogey-bogey start with me. Anyone who refers to himself aloud by his real name after a poorly struck shot needs to work on his self-deprecation skills.

Acceptable: “You dumb--s! Why are you hitting in there?”

Unacceptable: “Oh, Billy! Come on….”

Upon further review, two things have become abundantly clear. Horschel doesn’t hit many bad shots. And he’s different, which is a good thing in a league where unemotional, wanna-be stars are produced regularly by the Tour’s cookie cutter. The guy does a lot of things well, and the U.S. Open, where he finished T-4, was another step forward in Horschel’s competitive evolution.

His numbers are crazy-good. The win in New Orleans and six other top-10s, sixth in total driving, sixth in the all-around stat, second in birdie-conversion percentage. Horschel recovers from bogeys well and is very good at saving par after barely missing a green, which isn’t often. I don’t know if he’s ready to win a major, but if he doesn’t win another event in 2013, I’ll get myself a pair of those octopus pants and wear them up to the Little Brown Dog.

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG? Steve Stricker really isn’t anymore, and his performance on Merion’s early holes Sunday was enough to leave you thinking he’ll never win a major, but his “I’m a savage” spot for Avis has already claimed my award for the year’s best TV commercial featuring a pro golfer.

Pretty damn funny if you ask me.

A couple of other potential campaigns featuring our favorite players:

• Tiger and Rory, all buffed up and ready to go in their Swooshies, approach the Merion clubhouse together, only to find the door locked.

• In honor of Camp Ponte Vedra’s streaming app, we find Philly Mick walking into a crowded workplace, climbing up on someone’s desk and unleashing a 2-wood on a replica of the U.S. Open trophy. Unfortunately, the shaft snaps, the clubhead goes flying – and the USGA chalice doesn’t bear a dent.

Jason Dufner hits a little pitch to 10 or 12 feet below the hole, as was the case at Merion’s fourth hole last Friday, then hurls the wedge into a greenfront creek. The offensive club begins floating downstream, and Dufner, whose physical composition does not resemble that of Usain Bolt, begins chasing after it.

“While we’re young!” some ancient guy in a USGA blazer hollers, tugging on his wrinkled neck.