After the high drama of Sergio vs. Tiger last weekend, producing the best Players Championship ratings in more than a decade, we were probably due for something a bit less energetic. But as a fisherman would say, a calm surface can disguise a roiling storm below,* and despite a tranquil veneer, the golf world was alive and stirring this weekend.
*It's not clear that fishermen actually say this or that the phenomenon of subsurface storms is a real thing.
Here are five things that happened this weekend that might interest YOU, the Grantland reader:
Tuesday night, I found myself with a group of fellow writers and assorted vagabonds at a Tucson Steakhouse called Lil Abner's. It was one of those rustic meat-and-potato joints with long wooden tables, no formal menu, and rusted barn relics hanging on the walls. (If it's any recommendation, John Daly used to park his bus out back during tournament week and spend every night inside.) Seven men sat at the table to my left. Two of them, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, were famous golfers from Northern Ireland. Four were civilians, agents and caddies. The seventh was a lesser-known quantity — a pudgy 25-year-old Irishman named Shane Lowry, whose claim to fame was winning the Irish Open in 2009, and who sneaked into the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship field because someone else sunk a putt at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. As the 64-seed, lowest in the field, his first-round opponent would be the best golfer in the world, a man with whom he was currently sharing dinner.
At the end of their meal, the seven wrote their names on slips of paper and placed them in an empty glass. When the waitress came by, she drew the names out one by one. They were playing roulette, and the last three names in the glass would be responsible for the bill. McDowell cheered loudly when his name was pulled. The waitress drew another slip. "Rorrrry," she read, the way you'd coo over a child. The cheers grew louder. "Shane?" she said next. Laughter and more cheers. Consternation from the civilians; none of the golfers would be paying. Two days later, at least one of them would have to lose.
Maybe it has to do with the sport's ties to the British Isles, but I've always thought golf was closest to its essence in nasty weather. Clear skies are best for the players, sure, but there's something romantic and even nostalgic about seeing them wind- and rain-battered, hitting low shots as they squint into the overcast horizon, overpowered by the elements. That's why I was excited that this year's U.S. Open took place at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, and why the first three sunny days left me a bit empty. We were promised fog!
It finally crept in Sunday, and the dark skies and heavy air set the stage for an ugly final round, where Raleigh's Webb Simpson stole a major title from seasoned contenders such as Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.