Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lest I forget...

I'd be derelict in my duties as both a fan and a blogger if I didn't mention that my favorite athlete, Paula Creamer, won the U.S. Women's Open on Sunday. It was a popular win with the golf world as well as my world.
Since Annika retired and Lorena Ochoa left earlier this season, the search has been on for the next player to dominate the game the way those two did for several years.
Would it be Christie Kerr, who won last year's Open and has both the game and the temperament to be the best player on tour? Would it be Suzann Pettersen, who has the talent but not always the fortitude to come through and win when it counts? Or would it be one of the Asian players who seem to have taken the game by storm over the past 5 years?
The main reason Paula's victory was so popular is because she is so popular. She has a great attitude toward her fans and seems to be thisclose to winning almost every time she walks on a course. The past few years have been fraught with difficult health issues and strange injuries, the latest of which required thumb surgery and caused her to think that she may never play again. She played the Open with a wrap on her thumb (which you can see in the photo) and routinely ices it after every round.
Nevertheless, (or thumb notwithstanding) she played perhaps the best round of her career on Sunday, when you factor in the difficulty of Oakmont. While the field faded and struggled with narrow fairways and greens like car hoods, she hit 24 of her last 28 fairways and routinely made par and birdie putts to finish 4 strokes ahead and make the 18th hole more of a celebration than a contest. Those are good things.
As most of you know, I've been following her career for a while, and I never attend a tournament without walking with her for 18 holes. While she was out of action with the surgery, I found it difficult to watch a tournament knowing that she wasn't playing. I've seen her play some great golf but I've never seen her win in person. It isn't easy to be an in-person golf fan, since the tournaments move around the world like a caravan. Thanks to the Golf Channel we can watch almost every week, and thanks to NBC I got to see the final two rounds of the Open. I'd go so far to say that even Johnny Miller was impressed, and he isn't easily impressed.
For a while, she was known as "the best player to never win a major." No more. Now, she may just be the best player, period. They keep track of those things, and as of today, Christie is still number one, but Paula picked up 6 spots to place seventh going into a well-deserved week off.
It is pretty easy to be cynical about big-time sports. It's a world where a basketball player has a 1-hour television show to announce where he will be playing. Where the word "entered a plea" comes after a lot of names, where drug-addled athletes and felony charges wind up on the front page instead of the front of the sports page and in general we think of them as overpaid and unworthy of the adulation and societal rewards that come with their professions.
There are, however, exceptions. It is a treat to watch someone so gifted, joyful and gracious excel at something. The best part of it is, she has so many great days ahead. I'm looking forward to it.

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