For reasons I won't delve into, other than Nascar, I don't follow professional sports as much as I did at one time.
Of course, I keep up with our own Jasper Brinkley and the Minnesota Vikings, and I will watch some of the NFL playoffs. I do, however, enjoy watching the major golf championships: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA. Winning just one of those titles can ensure a secure income with endorsements, lasting fame and admiration, provided the victor doesn't do anything foolish to bring scorn upon himself.
Having spent almost all of my life observing, playing or coaching various sports, I feel the pain of people who have fallen short in their pursuit of the big prize. I detest hearing sports commentators label competitors as "unable to win the big one." Many of them never played the game that they love to hear themselves talk about. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who retired holding a host of passing records, is still criticized for losing three Super Bowls by people who never put on a helmet, much less had 300-pound defensive linemen with a bad attitude try to decapitate them on Sunday afternoons.
Dan Reeves is remembered for being the losing coach of four Super Bowl teams rather than the only man to take the Falcons to such heights. Even though Greg Norman and Tom Weiskopf won the British Open (Norman twice), both are remembered for their failure to win the Masters. Weiskopf finished second four times. Norman lost in a playoff when Augusta native Larry Mize chipped in to win in 1987 and suffered a painful loss in 1993 after blowing a six-stroke lead on the back nine in the final round.
Having said all this, I enjoyed immensely the victory of 22-year-old Rory McIlroy in this year's U.S. Open. In the previous three major tournaments, dating back to last July's British Open, McIlroy was in contention heading into the final round only to fail to close the deal. The worst disappointment for him, without a doubt, was his collapse in April's Masters Tournament. Leading with nine holes left on Sunday, his game fell apart and he finished with a final round of 80. He then had to face the cameras, which he did with amazing class and poise.
In this year's U.S. Open, he left no doubt that he can handle the pressure. He led all four rounds to win by eight shots and set several records that won't soon be broken in that tournament. He will no longer have to answer the doubters.
Many have forgotten how many times the great Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and the legendary Bobby Bowden had to answer critics for failing to win it all before finally triumphing with multiple national titles.
For all of Dale Earnhardt's victories and seven Nascar points championships, he spent years explaining why he had not won the Daytona 500 until he finally did so in 1998.
Our own Luther Welsh coached for almost 30 years before winning his first state championship, only to follow it with another in 1985. He then had to labor 17 long seasons before winning his third at age 70.
Redemption is indeed sweet.
I'm glad McIlroy only had to wait about three months for his.
Many great competitors never reach their goals of a state or national championship or a major sports title. At age 22, he will get to try many more times for greatness.
John Barnett has played, observed and coached Thomson athletics for 45 years.