Monday, April 11, 2011
What does it mean
to be a Master?
He's white, no, he's black, no, he's neither, so we can trash him...
I KEEP COMING BACK... I watched the final round of the Masters Tournament yesterday. I admit I was rooting for Tiger Woods, but I wouldn't have written about it except for two additional happenstances. There was the singularly unfortunate circumstance of Rory McIlroy imploding on the second nine. Heartbreaking and ugly. There was also the all-out support of Mrs. CP for Tiger (the woman who can't root for the Eagles because of Michael Vick). She echoed his fist pumps, she hid her eyes (presciently for the most part) during his putts on the final holes, and there was no escaping the fact that she really really wanted him to win.
You know how you can simmer about things without knowing exactly why, until there's a crystallizing moment that brings the simmer to a roiling boil that overflows the pot?
Well, that's what the Masters did to me yesterday. It was like a whole bunch of lock tumblers falling into place to open a secret vault. (One of which is the preceding post btw.) I didn't even have to discuss it with Mrs. CP. I just said, "I think I need to do a Tiger post." And she said, "Of course you do."
Not serendicity this time but confluence. Where numerous tributaries feed into a strong river of insight.
1. Like everybody else I was disappointed and disgusted (though, honestly, not entirely surprised) to hear about Tiger's extra-marital escapades. But I've been simmering for a long time about his treatment at the hands of ESPN. From the first there has been an air of gloating about their coverage of his fall from grace. Yes, he fell from grace. And his golf has suffered. He hasn't won a tournament in seventeen months. Loss as guilt, punishment, and vengeance. But whose vengeance? ESPN and its anchors and expert analysts have delighted in every poor performance, every drop in the rankings (all the way, most recently, to seventh in the world!) as proof that Tiger Woods is done. (And, boy, are we at ESPN glad!) This from a network whose diverse correspondents argue at various times for the rehabilitation of Pete Rose, who bet on baseball games he was managing, A-Rod, whose bid for the Hall of Fame might be revivified by the fact that he confessed to steroid abuse in the middle rather than the end of his career, and Cam Newton, whose pay-for-play track record is supposedly outdistanced by his winning Ted Bundy smile, his Heisman, and some sort of NFL promise. Not to mention the fact that the ex-jocks who populate ESPN's analyst panels are veterans themselves of the groupies (and, yes, I've heard personal anecdotes from my own sources) who trail every successful professional athlete with promises of guilt-free, untraceable, uh, pleasure. Have any of them condemned Brett Favre in the same terms they've condemned Tiger Woods? uh, no. The story has been, in the former case, "Will sexual allegations distract superstar Brett Favre in his final bid for a Super Bowl win?" Never mind that Brett Favre is a long, long-time married man whose wife signed up to marry him before he was a mega-millionaire and automatically, absolutely alone. Lost in all their jumping on Tiger's golf grave was any recognition that his malfeasance involved no harassment of PGA employees, no cheating in the game he was actually playing, no firearms violations, no felonies, no violence, no actual corruption but adultery. Which ESPN and all the professional team sport athletes are the best possible judges of. Really? Really????
2. The Imus crew. Which isn't as potent as it is indicative. Imus's foul-mouthed producer Bernie has been featured during the past year with a Tiger impression that makes the golfer sound like a cross between Richard Pryor's standard parody of a white man and (well, to nobody but me, I guess) a more tenor version of Barack Obama. This breaks them all up. Yuck yuck yuck. What a geek. Tiger Woods as a nerdy non-athlete who somehow lucked into marrying a super-white super-model and scored a half-billion dollars with a chipmunk face and a receding hairline. (Was anybody but me concerned about this match? Really? uh, okay. Thought so.He always knew she loved him for his Stanford small talk.) Imus chimes in with gusto. The same Imus who got fired for calling black female Rutgers basketball players "nappy-headed hoes." I said, 'indicative.' Imus is who he is. A singularly vile narcissist of extremely limited intelligence and accomplished manner who has discovered that Tiger Woods is not African-American but some sort of undifferentiated Thai-ho mix and therefore an approved and juicy target for his contempt. The same Imus who despises and derogates Tiger Woods is the septuagenarian cokehead who lived for years with purchased hookers as an entitlement of his ability to be nasty to one and all on the radio. Now he's received absolution because he has prostate cancer and a gorgeous wife who uses his fortune to convince the old fool he can earn salvation by helping the disadvantaged -- while she waits, oh so submissively, for the old minion of Satan to die and turn her loose on her own new-age Satanic mission of death by mommy-nagging. Halleluiah. (Yay, the Lord will not judge all prostitutes as sinners, especially if they are good nutritionists.) Why the need to trash Tiger when Imus's own numb twilight career rests on the generosity of so many to overlook his technicolor portfolio of sins? Yet the very name 'Tiger' has become a joke on the successful show of a man who is the living, somewhat distasteful embodiment of the American tradition of "second chance."
[Excuse me. Have I made it clear how much I despise Imus? No? There is no shallower, stupider, deep-down meaner manipulator of the airwaves than this self-obsessed, self-congratulating and, thankfully self-medicating mummy of a bygone media era. He's become his own vision of hell -- Lawrence Welk with a chicken neck and a cowboy hat. Why I'm so scared of his nascent widow. What WON'T she do to get control of our taste buds and bowels? Shudder.]
3. The Young Lions of Golf. The sports press has been delighted during the seventeen months of Tiger's drought to celebrate the fearless kids who are "no longer intimidated" by the presence of Tiger Woods on a golf course. Almost all of the last ten majors have been won by "kids" (meaning, it turns out, winless pros under 30; Tiger is 33), who are immediately pronounced the future of golf. Except that one great "in the groove" performance" does not an icon make. I can't list all their names, can't remember all their names. For some reason, ESPN is rooting for Mickelson, but his lackluster performance in the Masters did not incite a "he's done" sidebar such as we've been hearing about Tiger every time he hasn't won over the past year. And what was conspicuously absent from yesterday's proceedings was all the PGA stars who never even showed up on the leader board -- you know, all of Tiger's contemporaries who are no longer "intimidated" or even , by inference, respectful of him -- Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Zach Johnson, Villegas, and on and on and on. All out of the running while Tiger contended against the kids. All these folks, kids and pros both, are great golfers. Any one of them could have beaten Nicklaus, Player, Palmer, Watson, etc, during the days when the whole damn world wasn't playing golf. At one point yesterday, Nick Faldo, the great British champion, pointed out that the first eight names of the leader board represented every continent but Antarctica. Nicklaus never faced that. But Mickelson finishing 27th or 30th didn't inspire the creepy interview of CBS's McAtee, who had the nerve to ask Tiger, leader in the clubhouse, "Do you think you're now back in the thick of the things after, uh, everything?" Fuck you. McAtee.
4. I'm getting to the end, I promise. Rory McIlroy. He was leading by four strokes going into the final round. ESPN's most elite corps of journalists congregated Sunday morning on the show "Sports Reporters" to agree that, of course, McIlroy could win it all at age 21. About time. Tiger did, after all. Except that McIlroy couldn't. I saw an interview in which McIlroy revealed that he had watched every stroke of Tiger's domination of the 1997 Masters. It's what inspired him to become a professional golfer. (How many of that last stampede were similarly inspired? Don't ask ESPN.) At the end of the tournament, Nick Faldo was gravely converned. This is not a quote but a paraphrase but it's accurate as to content. "The Masters is being thrown into the deep end. It's cruel and brutal. You're all alone. I don't know, can't predict that he'll recover from his meltdown. I hope he does."
5. Tiger won at age 21. He didn't break. But breaking is the big question, isn't it? Tiger played for a dozen years under the most incredible pressure any athlete but maybe Muhammed Ali has experienced. He broke. Are we happy now? ESPN sure is. The most malignant enemy of true greatness is mediocrity. The ESPN take. Why Mrs. CP roots for him. She has a native sense of what it cost Tiger to be the very best in the most intense sports media environment any golfer ever faced, against the best competition. A decade and a half of the pressure that crushed McIlroy like a beer can at Augusta yesterday. Has Tiger enjoyed his wealth, power, and iconic image? Probably not. His philanderings smack of desperation. "Does anyone love me apart from the miracles I perform and the spoils it brings?" What is Mrs. CP rooting for? What is she rooting for when she hides her eyes on the verge of a putt?
By God she loves champions, the fearless ones. The ones who can get off the canvas and come back, regardless of what the small people are saying.
A diminuendo close. By and large, the Masters coverage on CBS is the best in sport. Only four minutes of commercials in each 60 minutes. But I've got a demurral for you to think on. Not about race. About accomplishment -- and, well, mastery. The Augusta Golf Club does its own commercials for the event. In one, the club president solemnly informs us of the sancitity of the green jacket awarded to the winners. "Winning the Masters makes them champions for life."
How many Masters has Tiger won? So why is he suddenly a loser? Never mind. Mere persiflage.
More importantly. The guy conveying this message to us is wearing a Masters Green Jacket. Because he's president of the club. Which, inevitably, makes one think that the only permanent champion is the Augusta Golf Club. The winners from year to year are only hired hands. Yes, we can brush Tiger away eventually. Like we do bad caddies and slovenly waiters at the 19th hole.
Probably unfair. Just an impression.
Except for this. Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer who ever lived. And he still is the greatest golfer in the whole wide world. Sorry for all of you who think different.
You can disagree, but Mrs. CP is against you. She's pretty much down on the envy and jealousy of mediocrities. Just so you know.
To be clear. Mrs. CP wouldn't forgive me for what Tiger has done. On the other hand, she didn't marry me knowing she'd get a few hundred million and change if her 'love' turned out to be, well, short-term. Something I have over Tiger. Something most of you have over Tiger.
Crumbling at Augusta may be the best thing that ever happened to Rory McIlroy. I know it doesn't seem like it now. But men who are on a mission can be the worst possible mates for women who think life is about decorating their husbands' accomplishments with the right duds and drapes. All my apologies, Michelle.
Oh. And one more thing. With Mrs. CP yelling in my ear, "GO TIGER!"