Yesterday’s improbable PGA Tour victory by 51-year-old Davis Love III adds to one of the best sports years in memory.
Everywhere you look, you see epic stories, close finishes, and/or tales of redemption.
The Super Bowl went down to the wire, to a final-10-seconds interception of a very short pass into the end zone.
Horse racing finally found a Triple Crown winner after 37 years of close-but-no-Cigars.
In tennis, Serena Williams enters the U.S. Open next week as the strong favorite to become just the fourth woman ever to win the single-season Grand Slam. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer continue a series of epic duels, with Federer showing just yesterday that he’s not ready yet to be put out to pasture, by defeating the Serb in Cincinnati.
In college basketball, the NCAA Final Four boasted the excitement of a team, Kentucky, that looked like a virtual lock to post the first undefeated season since Indiana did it in 1976 — only to see the Wildcats fall in a monumental upset to Wisconsin, who in turn lost to Duke in the finals. The Blue Devils’ win, in a tremendously well-palyed game, moved the famous Coach K into second place all time in national titles.
The NBA Finals may not have gone the full seven games, but it featured riveting performances by teams respectively featuring the two best players in today’s game, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team stunned Japan with four goals in the first 16 minutes of the World Cup Final — a blitz so powerful and unexpected that it more than made up for the lack of a nerve-wrackingly tight game. It really was something to behold.
And then there’s golf. After a number of “down” years, this was by far the most interesting, most dramatic season in quite some time.
Face it, the era of Tiger Woods’ dominance was, competitively speaking, boring. With the exception of one fantastic year by Vijay Singh in 2004, nobody ever really stepped up to challenge Woods. Most of his top competitors folded in direct competition with him. There was no Tom Watson or Lee Trevino — no top competitor, although journeymen hung close to Woods three times — to chip in or birdie closing holes to defeat Woods, the way those two did to Nicklaus.
But now, suddenly, golf has, in Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day, a new “Big Three” (bringing back memories of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player in the 1960s) — all in their 20s, all with major titles along with multiple major top fours, all with multiple wins this year, and all with likable, engaging personalities. Spieth’s quest for a Grand Slam missed by one 72nd Hole inch at the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, and by one astonishingly good performance (by Day) at the PGA. Day’s redemptive win, after a very tough childhood, after six extremely close near-misses in prior major tourneys, and after his scary bout of vertigo at the U.S. Open, was something wonderful to behold.
And with Rickey Fowler, also in his 20s, stepping up finally on a big stage with a breathtaking closing birdie barrage to win the near-major Tournament Players Championship — and with the ongoing saga of the quest of “bad boy” Dustin Johnson (just 30 years old) to get the major monkey off his back — and with a host of other 20-somethings or early 30-somethings already with major titles and records of consistency and great promise for the future… well, with all of this going on, the world of professional golf is riding high.
And then came last week’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. Suddenly, Tiger Woods was in contention again, leading after the second round and just two back entering Sunday! Suddenly, there were at one point on Sunday six people tied for the lead — with Love, astonishingly, having put together a stretch where he was six-under-par in just five holes! (Also, out of the nowhere of an absolutely godawful year, the estimable Justin Leonard was in the hunt, just two back.)
And then, just as it looked like Love had run out of steam, there he was sinking an eagle putt on the 15th hole to vault into the lead. At age 51 and four months, he was on the verge of being the third-oldest title winner in PGA Tour history.
And then Love won.
Golf fans appreciate this. They appreciate that Love is a class act. They know that he is highly regarded by his peers, that he has a reputation of being a good friend (and, to younger players, a mentor). They know how many injuries and surgeries he has endured. And they know the story of how his father, one of the top teaching pros in the game, died a quarter-century ago in a small-plane crash.
Anyway, after all the Spieth-Day-Johnson drama at the majors this year, to follow up with a “regular” event where Woods was back in the hunt and promising better things (and where, despite a reinjured hip and an awful triple bogey, he found the wherewithal to birdie four of the final six holes) — and where the leader board was tightly bunched — and where a 51 year old “good guy” walked off with his 21st Tour victory (more than Greg Norman, more than Ben Crenshaw or Hale Irwin, more than Hubert Green or Tom Kite or Tom Weiskopf, more than Fuzzy Zoeller and Payne Stewart put together) — well, it was a really nice, heartwarming follow-up to the previous week’s PGA Championship, and a very nice way to cap golf’s “regular season.”
If it’s true that being a sports fan is a mere diversion from more “important” things, so be it. In years like this, where storylines seem scripted by the best of old-time Hollywood writers and where good guys actually do finish first, it’s a good diversion indeed. Athletes pushing their limits, in honorable competition, can provide good examples for all of us. Jordan Spieth and Davis Love III certainly do, and we should be happy to see it.