Just reaching back here folks and picking up on this thread….
In the end, one of the interesting things about the role of The Other Guy in golf is that he doesn’t always show up. Consider for a moment the breathless commentary that follows a victory by one of the emerging stars of the game. Get set, we are told, for the new rivalry. It’s gonna be Rory vs. Jordan, or Ricky vs. Rory or whatever hypothetical confrontation seems the most compelling at the time.
And then it doesn’t happen.
Sure the New Rivals show up for the majors and compete for the same antique glob of silver. But, as befits a game in which participants have a tendency to act immaturely and do a fair amount of whining, the competition proceeds like a play date for toddlers: it’s essentially parallel play in which competitors play with their own stuff and don’t do any sharing. You rarely get the head-to-head competition that we are told to expect.
Consider for a moment the shocking, and in some sense troubling, end to the U.S. Open last month. The suspense as DJ lined up his eagle putt hinged on whether he would make it and win his first major, or alternatively, miss it and set up the Most Annoying Playoff in Golf, an 18 hole match on a work day. But as we all witnessed, DJ fell through a virtual trap door, landing in one of the most tortured Circles of Golf Hell, the flubbed short putt.
There was going to be this great head-to-head match. Polite well-bred young lad from Texas against the guy who had to take a leave from the Tour last year. Family entourage vs. sexpot wife. Brains vs. brawn.
But then Dustin didn’t show up.
This all underscores the cruel and razor thin margin between success and failure in golf. Right now Wimbledon is in full swing, heading towards a final that will most likely feature two of the topmost seeds. Tennis is like that. It delivers, over the years, a steady diet of Connors v. Borg, Federer v. Nadal. And this is no surprise if you think of the number of times a competitor hits the ball over the course of a tennis tournament. It’s well into the thousands, and so the Law of Large Numbers exerts its influence and the best players rise to the top.
But not so with our game. The winner of one of our tournaments hits the ball a total number of times that is well under 300 strokes. This leaves far too much room for the random event, for the undetected bump in the green, or the unlucky roll of an otherwise well-struck shot. Hence the reverence when golf writers consider a duel such as Nicklaus v. Watson at Turnberry in 1977. It just doesn’t happen that often. And why is that? That’s right.
The Other Guy didn’t show up.