October 1, 2012 — I hate the idea of choking. Metaphorically, I mean. I have no particular fear of the literal act of choking. Obviously, actual choking is bad, but if it happens in a restaurant, it offers someone the chance to be a big hero and earn a free dinner. So it’s one of our more opportunistic of hazards that we face as human beings.
But choking on the sports playing field is horrible. I don’t even want to write about it, but it seems necessary at this moment since I witnessed two sports events simultaneously on Sunday afternoon in which most would say that choking happened in a big dog way.
Did I mention, I hate choking? Well, let me add that I also hate the mongrel scum that would gleefully label an athlete a “choker.” I’m guessing most of the bottom-feeding, soulless, message-board poets that would use the term choker couldn’t sink a free throw or a six-foot putt to win a free dinner at McDonald’s.
However, since I watched the Texas Rangers blow a game in the ninth inning on Sunday afternoon while I was watching the Ryder Cup slip away from the United States, I feel obligated as a person with a computer and a hot sports opinion to write about it.
It should be noted that I didn’t lose much sleep over the Rangers blowing the game against the Angels, probably because the Rangers came back and won the night-cap of a day-night doubleheader. I feel confident the Rangers will still win the American League West and as previously mentioned, I don’t mind if that’s as good as it gets this year.
The United States’ loss wouldn’t have bothered me much either. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are my two favorite golfers with Sergio Garcia easily landing in my top 10, so I have as much love and admiration of the Europeans as the Americans, some of which I can take or leave (Tiger, Matt Kuchar). Except for that I felt terrible for Jim Furyk.
As Furky leaned over his putter, having lost the 17th and 18th holes to Garcia on Sunday to lose a crucial match in the Ryder Cup, I ached for him.
Let me reiterate, I do not care that the United States lost the Ryder Cup. But if anyone ever calls Furyk a choker within my ear shot, he’ll have a fight on his hands. And it’s going to happen, too. Furyk’s loss in the Ryder Cup came too soon after he had the U.S. Open right in front of him for the taking in June.
It’s not just because Furyk is a 16-time winner on tour and a major champion, having claimed the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. It’s because Furyk carries himself with dignity. He has the set jaw and sincere, guileless stare of a man with integrity. It’s also because he took those hard losses hard. A man who is still rubbing his head in disbelief and disappointment well after his fateful Ryder Cup match is over is a man you can trust.
That’s why this whole thing we call the spotlight is so unfair. You only get a few chances in it. And what’s to suggest the percentages are any different in that spotlight as they are far from the spotlight? A guy might make four of ten putts from eleven feet on the practice green. And if you give him ten chances in the spotlight, he might make five. But you only get one chance in the spotlight.
Ben Folds sang one of my favorite lines of all time when he sang “There’s never gonna be a moment of truth for you, while the world is watching.”
For most of us that’s true and we can feel fortunate for that fact.
I submit that no matter who you are, if you reach that moment that Furyk reached on Sunday at the Ryder Cup, the difference between being clutch and choking is the flip of a coin. Our fate, even at the top of the mountain, is more random than we would like to admit.
So I recognize the idea of choking’s right to exist. But that’s as good as I can do. And I would really have to despise someone to label him a choker.
Photo via The NY Times.
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