Step On Their NecksPolitely

By Adam BarrSeptember 17, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Ryder CupIn the 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, Ben Kingsley plays Bruce Pandolfini, a chess master who is trying to polish the game of child prodigy Josh Waitzkin, played my Max Pomeranc. One exchange struck me:
Bruce: Do you know what it means to have 'contempt' for your opponent?
Josh: No.
Bruce: It means to hate them. You have to hate them, Josh. They hate you.
Josh: But I don't hate them.
Bruce: Well, you'd better start.
Nonsense, I thought. The real accomplishment is to be able to beat someone you like, someone you have gone out of your way to be courteous to. Ask Bobby Jones.
Many practitioners of match play say that you indeed have to hate your opponent to get the job done. I wonder sometimes if they mean it. This years Ryder Cup run-up wasnt exactly a love fest, but there were plenty of expressions of mutual admiration. These guys play together in the biggest tournaments, and I dont see a lot of death looks across the practice tee.
Others have suggested that all this friendliness is a sign of weakness, or at least softness, and that it dilutes the will to win. They prefer to see the spirit Tiger Woods showed some years ago when he fixed a reporter with a menacing stare and intoned that the best thing to do when you have a big lead over an opponent is to step on his neck.
All of which brings up the question: Do you have to hate your opponent to win the Ryder Cup? Or is it better if you dont?
I suspect that half the people who say yes to match-play hate mean it figuratively. That is, once the handshakes and good-lucks on the first tee are over, quiet disdain rules until the final putt drops.
Its an ancient theme in the ancient game. When last in St. Andrews, I dropped into a bookshop that had a selection of hand-colored cartoons from old English humor magazines, mostly Punch. One depicted two old Scots, Macphail and Macpherson, about to tee off on the eighteenth hole of their match, during which they had been completely silent. Macphail breaks the spell to say to Macpherson, Dor-rr-rr-mie! and the other answers, Chatter-rr-rr-box! (Of course, the cartoon now hangs on the wall of my home office.)
This is defensible, to be sure. Its nothing more than game face, and as long as it doesnt spill over into glove-Velcro snapping on putts and that kind of junk, its fine. It even ramps up the excitement and gets guys into an almost freaky corner of The Zone, like Corey Pavin when he chipped in during morning foursomes in the 1995 Ryder Cup. He was a golf robot. A robot with really good touch. I doubt he and Tom Lehman hated Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie. But they had certainly tuned them out effectively.
I dont see any evidence of real contempt at this Ryder Cup. (Well, Monty has contempt for the reporters who insist on asking about his divorce, but thats another story.) But whenever I run into really antagonistic match players, I feel sorry for them. I dont even care if I lose to them; after all, Im there to try as hard as I can to win, but mostly to have fun, win or lose. When Im playing someone with a similar attitude, I feel good after the match, as long as I tried my best. Match play is such an anything-can-happen format that theres no point in getting all worked up.
Of course, playing for your country is a different matter, especially in terms of pressure. Likely Ryder Cuppers put more pressure on themselves than anyone else does. Thats the kind of people they are. But that doesnt change the fact that competition is more satisfying when you can be a gentleman (or lady) to your opponent and still kick the all-fired, gloppy, hot-in-the-Georgia-summer-sun tar out of him (or her).
This is the paragraph where I tend to veer into preachiness, but Ill restrain myself. Suffice to say, handling international competitions in this way speaks well of golf, and of sports in general. I wouldnt be surprised if a lot of parents who were thinking of introducing their kids to golf do so after a good Ryder Cup.
Which is what were hoping for, right?
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”