A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bet the House!

On Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open. Seriously, I think Tigger is a near mortal lock to win that tournament, the "Phil Slam" notwithstanding.

Here's why:

A) Tiger Woods is still the best golfer in the world, desptie Mickelson's recent surge.

B) The U.S. Open plays to Woods' strengths better than any other major-- it is the longest, it has the toughest rough (which Tiger can get out of better than anyone else), and this year it's at Winged Foot, a course which rewards strong iron play.

But mostly, there's

C) It is played on Father's Day weekend and Tiger just lost his dad. That may seem like a bad thing for Tiger, a distraction that will prevent him from playing his best-- and it would be for most people. But Tiger isn't most people. He is an elite athlete in his sport, and elite athletes frequently have their best games when logic would dictate that they should be distracted and unable to do their best.

Michael Jordan had one of his best performances ever (38 points on the road, including a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 25 seconds left) in the fifth game of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Jazz despite being "really tired and very weak" from the flu. Brett Favre had one of the best games of his career the day after his father died. In the 1967 World Series, Bob Gibson pitched three complete games despite having had his leg broken just three months earlier. And don't forget Kurt Schilling's "bloody sock" performance in the 2004 World Series.

There are other examples, but my point is this-- the kind of things that slow down, or shut down, normal mortals don't always have the same effect on elite athletes. People like Jordan, Favre, Gibson and Schilling have so much drive, so much determination, so much competitive spirit, so much focus that things that would be distractions to others are often actually beneficial to them. They are able to force themselves to focus on the game in order to escape the distraction, and thus the distraction actually makes these already focused, driven and talented individuals even more focused and driven, thus taking their talent to even higher levels.

So. Before the U.S. Open, Tiger's heart will be heavy as he considers playing in his first major without his dad watching. After the U.S. Open, Tiger's heart will be heavy as he considers having completed his first major without his dad watching. But during the U.S. Open, he will be funneling all of his prodigious focus, determination and talent into his golf game so that he doesn't have to consider that not only is this the first major since his dad died, but it's also Father's Day weekend.

He might collapse under that pressure-- but history doesn't seem to indicate that pressure has that effect on Mr. Woods. My guess is that he'll have one of the best performances of his life, and then sob like a baby while he holds this little trinket for the third time.


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