McIlroy and Fowler: Out In the Open

Rory McIlroy on practice day one, US Open 2012. The Olympic Club, San Francisco CA.

Since CNN delivered a British an Open Championship spoiler via text alert at about 11 a.m., I figure there’s nothing stopping me from writing a quick blog post about two of my favorite professional golfers — Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler — while the tournament is still being televised in the U.S.

Rory won at Royal Liverpool, and Rickie ended the day tied for 2nd place with Sergio Garcia.

I remain a wee bit skeptical about Rory after he called off his wedding to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki in May, just a few days after the invitations were mailed. Seriously, he couldn’t have decided he “wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails” any sooner? The results speak for themselves, though: ever since rejoining the ranks of single folk, his level of play has been phenomenal, suggesting something (probably his head) just wasn’t right.

Besides, rumor has it that Wozniacki was prohibited from wearing high heels while dating McIlroy because she is two inches taller than he is. (She’s been tweeting photos of herself this week, wearing stilettos for the first time “in three years”.)  No man is worth that kind of sacrifice.

Wozniacki won a WTA tournament in Istanbul today. Rory is the newest Open champion.  He is 25 years old, she is just 24. Perhaps they both have emerged from their relationship as winners.  At a minimum, seems like they dodged a bullet.

I dug into my photo archive from the 2012 US Open for shots of McIlroy and super-nice-guy Fowler.  Aside from being very down-to-earth and gracious with fans, Rickie is a blast to follow around the course because there are always a few very young boys there who idolize him, and dress up in head-to-toe Puma gear. (Orange on Sundays, of course.) Adorable.

Well played, fellows!


Practice Makes Perfect: Observations From the 2012 US Open

The Olympic Club

Tiger Woods

There’s something about Tiger Woods.  Golf fans love Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, and call them by their first names as if they’ve been friends for years.  We know their practice rituals, and personal details.  But with Tiger, it’s different.  He is in a class by himself.

This was evident at the practice green, where I hung out for an hour or two on Wednesday, the final practice day of this year’s US Open.  It was quiet and low-key as 15 or so players, and their caddies and coaches, milled around.  I heard a few spectators ask the whereabouts of “Bubba”, and lament “Rory’s” late tee-off time.  Then things changed.  First, TV crews popped up all around – seemingly out of nowhere.  There was even a big television camera on a crane that was long enough to get footage on the opposite side of the practice green.  Where did THAT come from?

Then the idle chitchat among spectators stopped, replaced by murmurs of “He’s here. Tiger’s HERE.”  It spread like the wave at a Major League Baseball game.

To what can we attribute this reaction? It’s true, Tiger is a spectacular talent and when he catastrophically fell from grace, most of us couldn’t look away.

Perhaps fans want to see a resurrection of sorts.  Americans love redemption, almost as much as we love to watch the rich and powerful fall down off their pedestals.  Or maybe fans have always reacted with hushed reverence when they got a glimpse of Tiger.   If that’s the case – and the guy can’t enter a room, practice area, or public event without the earth’s rotation noticeably slowing – it might help explain why he came to see himself as above the rules and social norms the rest of us live by.

Golf BagsMany professional caddies smoke.  This is a little surprising if you work under the assumption that smoking may not be conducive to cardio-pulmonary health.  A professional golfer’s bag loaded with clubs probably weighs 30 pounds, and caddies have to run with those things hanging over their shoulders – often uphill.  Smoking and caddying seem sort of incompatible but…

Miguel Ángel JiménezWhere there’s smoke, there’s Miguel Ángel Jiménez. The forty-seven-year-old Spanish golfer may smoke huge stinky stogies that seem to last for hours, but he’s clearly all about health and wellness.  Check it out.  No tight hammies on this guy!


Practice DayThey don’t call them practice days for nothing.  I went to golf tournaments in college, including a few practice rounds.  I guess I missed something, because I entered Wednesday expecting players to play 18 holes while following all the rules, as they got a feel for the course.  Not so.  There were mulligans galore, and on the greens each player probably took 10 practice putts from various locations.  On the 8th hole at Olympic, the green is on a hill.  Hit the ball short of the pin, and it’ll roll 20 yards or more back down onto the fairway.  Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell took turns testing this.

Golfers are outliers.  In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell demonstrates that excellence is no accident.  The average aficionado in anything — be it sports, music or computer programming — devotes about 10,000 hours to practice to get that way.  His hypothesis was supported on the practice green, where I watched players hit the same putt over and over — sometimes as part of precise drills.  I’d watch them miss eight inches to the left, then six inches, then four, then two until… success. Then they’d place the ball a foot or so from where it was before, and start all over.

cell phoneNo one would give me the time of day.  The US Open has a very strict “no cell phone” policy.  Security practically administers a TSA scan before they let you climb on a shuttle bus to the course, to ensure you aren’t smuggling one.  I missed having my phone and data access, but mostly I missed knowing what time it was.  Rising at the disorienting hour of 5 a.m. messed with my body clock, and it was too foggy to judge the hour by looking at the sun. Next time I’ll bring a watch.

And finally… Rory needs to get a grip.  Like golfers of every ilk, Rory McIlroy has perfected an insouciant lean-on-driver pose between shots.  Unfortunately, the bobblehead that shares his name and likeness — a gift from the San Francisco Giants — has not.

Rory McIlroy BobbleheadRory McIlroy

I Was Mad… But Then Came Madbum!

Rory McIlroy and Sergio RomoI have more than 100 reasons to dislike San Francisco Giants Chief Operating Officer Larry Baer tonight, and each has a dollar sign in front of it.

It was Irish Heritage Night at AT&T Park, and I went to the game in search of a Rory McIlroy bobblehead, and a photo-op of him (Rory, not the bobblehead) throwing out the first pitch.  I splurged on a seat in my favorite section by the Giants dugout.  It’s Larry territory — perfect for photo taking.

Rory threw pretty well for someone who once divulged on Twitter that the only sport he doesn’t care for is… baseball.  Then, I couldn’t believe it – he joined us all in Costa del Baerville, taking a seat four rows in front of me, next to Larry!

Unfortunately, this is when the trouble started.  It was crazy.  Streams of Larry Baer’s BFFs appeared out of nowhere, and stood fawning over Rory and air kissing one another — even after the game started.

For the rest of us, the expectation that one should wait until an at-bat is finished before getting up/returning to one’s seat applies.  Don’t time your restroom break just right? You may be forced to crawl back to your seat on your belly.

Not so for Larry and friends.

Baer was positively giddy, glad-handing and moving his friends and family around constantly.  At one point, while he was standing and blocking everyone’s view, Melky Caberea hit a smoking foul ball that whizzed no more than five feet from his head.  I don’t wish Larry injury, but I’m not sure getting bonked on the head would necessarily do him much harm.  (ZING!)

I’ve always been fairly ambivalent about Baer, but after tonight I know this for sure:  There is not a down-to-earth bone in his body.  He flamboyantly worked the crowd in “his” section.  The problem is, no more than 75% of the folks sitting there appeared to be his guests.  The rest of us paid a substantial amount of money for our tickets and wanted to watch THE GAME instead of Larry pressing the flesh.

The next time Larry Baer decides to throw a party during a Giants game, I would respectfully suggest that he rent a luxury suite upstairs.  He can certainly afford it.

Despite my feud with Larry and his entourage, I would be remiss if I didn’t say… it was a great game for the Giants.  I got a bobblehead, albeit a slightly defective one. Rory’s tiny driver keeps falling out of his hand.  I think a dab of Liquid Nails may be in order, but I suspect that’s not regulation and the USGA will disapprove.

Madison Bumgarner hit his first Major League home run tonight.  How could I stay mad, when I was so happy for Madbum?  Brandon Belt hit one too, and more than one helpful fan yelled down to Manager Bruce Bochy — just to make sure he saw it.