Failure at First Thought

RSS

Lindsey Jacobellis. Name ring a bell? If not, then you probably havent been watching much of the Winter Olympics.
 
Truthfully, neither have I. Im from Georgia. Skiing, skating and snowboarding are as appealing to me as sitting through a Ben Crenshaw acceptance speech.
 
But when I saw an image Friday of Jacobellis sprawled out in the snow, looking as if she had been competing in the biathlon with Dick Cheney, I had to at least read about what happened.
 
If you dont know the story, Jacobellis was competing in something called womens snowboardcross (Seriously, snowboardcross? What the hell?). She was easily leading her race with just two mounds between her and the gold medal. On her penultimate jump, however, she got a little too cute, hot-dogged it a little, and slipped on the mustard. She landed awkwardly, crashed hard, watched helplessly as a Swiss competitor sped past her, and ultimately settled for silver.
 
Greg Norman
Despite all of his accomplishments, Greg Norman will forever be remembered for his 1996 Masters collapse.
In one brief moment, on one grand stage, Jacobellis became a member of the most dubious club in all of sports: Failure at First Thought.
 
FaFT. Doesnt have much of a ring to it. Like H.I. McDonough said in 'Raising Arizona': Thats one bonehead name.
 
That it is. And its an organization of which no one wants to be a part. Except that athletes dont have much of a choice as to their inclusion. We put them in.
 
Because it is we ' fans, media ' who forever attached this stigma to them.
 
FaFT is reserved for athletes who will forever be remembered for one inglorious incident or act, despite whatever their glorious accomplishments may have been.
 
Golf has ample representation in this group.
 
The president of the Golf chapter in FaFT is Greg Norman. The man was the greatest player of his generation, the greatest in the game for over a decade, and yet the mere mention of his name instantly revives ' above all other major mishaps ' memories of one single, solitary Sunday in Augusta, Ga.
 
Had there never been a Bob Tway or a Larry Mize, or even a Fuzzy Zoeller or a Paul Azinger, there would still be this day trumping all others in our minds. When you picture Norman, is it in some triumphant pose, perhaps holding a claret jug, or is it his body collapsing off the 15th green at Augusta National, his putter like a sword in the act of hari-kari, April 14, 1996?
 
Major championships are the great inductor of golfers into this ignoble society.
 
We dont really remember players for their failures in regular tournaments, unless their achievements are so minimal that there is nothing else by which to really remember them. Plus, there are just too many tournaments, too many collapses, too many mistakes to remember them all.
 
Its unlikely that years from now we will see Becky Iverson and immediately recall her making triple bogey on the 15th hole en route to losing this past weeks SBS Open.
 
But the majors are different. The majors are only four times a year. The majors are when we all pay attention. The majors are where we never forget the winners and never allow the losers to forget they lost.
 
Scott Hoch won 11 times on the PGA Tour, finished in the top 40 on the money list 20 times in a 21-year stretch, and was ' in a great oxymoron ' highly regarded as golfs most underrated performer.
 
And yet theres that 30 putt at Augusta in 89.
 
For Doug Sanders, theres that 30 putt at St. Andrews in 70.
 
That one would have made him a British Open champion. But he pushed it, and then tried to drag it back like he had just dropped a $100 bill into a charity box when he thought it was a dollar.
 
Thomas Bjorn
Thomas Bjorn's double bogey on the 16th in the 2003 British Open bought him inclusion into FaFT.
For Thomas Bjorn, theres Royal St. Georges 2003. Bjorn beat Tiger Woods head-to-head over four days in Dubai in 2001; they should have given him two trophies and Tigers appearance money for doing that. But this we dont remember. This we do: leaving two in the bunker on 16 and handing the claret jug to a guy who had done nothing prior and has done nothing since.
 
The guys in this group dont even need an explanation as to why they are members. You need only hear or read their name and it becomes immediately evident.
 
Roberto De Vicenzo. Jean Van de Velde. Ed Snead.
 
And Im sure there are more.
 
Many others could easily be among these unfortunate men, for they have had their unfortunate moments. Yet, for various reasons, though we may remember these failures, they are not the first things that come to our minds.
 
At first thought, Arnold Palmer is The King, the fans man. Hes not the man who doubled 18 to lose the 61 Masters or the man who blew a seven-stroke lead with nine holes to play in the 66 U.S. Open.
 
At first thought, Sam Snead is not the man who made an eight on the final hole to blow the 39 U.S. Open or the man who missed a 30 putt on the final hole to lose the 47 U.S. Open. Hes Slammin Sammy, the man with the sweet swing and the colorful tales. Hes a legend.
 
Just like Ben Hogan, who is a survivor, a perfectionist and a champion. He is all of these things before he is the man who 3-putted the 18th hole in both the 46 Masters and U.S. Open, losing by one in the former and missing out on a playoff in the latter.
 
Even a guy like Retief Goosen. Hes a two-time U.S. Open champion, the Quiet Man in the shadows of golfs modern-day Big 4. At first thought, hes not the man who shot 81 in the final round of last years U.S. Open, having begun the day with a three-stroke lead.
 
He could have forever been the man who missed a 3-foot putt to win the 2001 U.S. Open. But he got a reprieve, won in a playoff, and now that miss is more of a footnote than it is the main headline in his career review.
 
Its a shame that certain athletes will forever be remembered first and foremost for a single moment of failure. But thats the way it is; thats the way we think ' not all of us, but the majority of us, me included.
 
But in concern to these players, if their accomplishments dont supersede their biggest failure at first thought, at least try to remember the positives at some point down the line.
 
Remember that De Vicenzo won the 1967 British Open and was a gentleman of the game. Remember that Sanders won 20 times on the PGA Tour and was a character of the game.
 
Remember Normans many wins, in addition to his many losses.
 
Remember that Van de Velde well, theres really only one reason to remember Jean Van de Velde.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs