Here is my entire high school athletic career, summed up in 10 words: I was the seventh man on a six-man team.
OK. So it was a golf team. That might not even qualify as an “athletic career.” It probably doesn’t.
Nevertheless, from the time I was a freshman until I was about to graduate, a couple of days each week in spring, I knocked around the local nine-hole course in the name of “practicing.” I can’t remember, but there were probably nine or 10 of us hacking around on any given day, with no apparent coaching or even much supervision. Only the top six actually competed in real matches. I never did.
When I was a senior, I had my chance to make the team. The team that actually played, not just practiced. It was before our first match of the season, and I was playing some freshman (as I remember it) for the No. 6 spot, and I think we were tied going into the last hole of match play (as I remember it). I stood over a putt that would have won it. Or maybe just tied it. I don’t remember.
Whatever, I missed it. I sure as hell remember that. The other guy became No. 6. And I spent the rest of my senior year just hacking around during practices and carrying someone else’s bag for the real matches.
(I am not a good golfer. I have brought this up before. Let’s not dwell on it, OK?)
Which brings me, of course, to Jordan Spieth.
I don’t watch golf on TV much. Hardly at all. But this was The Masters, practically in my back yard. And it was Sunday at The Masters.
So I was watching as Spieth tore up the last few holes on the front nine and got out to a big lead, and I saw him struggle a little bit after the turn. But, like everyone else, I didn’t figure on … that.
One of the maddening things about professional athletes is that they think that they are in some kind of universe that we just can’t understand. That we, as mere seventh men, could not even begin to understand. That no one who’s ever not played against other professionals can imagine.
That, of course, is crap. We may have never been on the free-throw line with the NBA title on the line, or faced down a Cy Young winner. But, c’mon. Anyone who has ever been competitive, anyone who’s really, really, really wanted to win at anything knows that feeling.
Heck, I can still feel, today, the weight of that putter coming back years and years ago. I’ll still get the yips once in a while. I’ve been in tight pickup games in the past year and coughed up the ball or yanked up an airball. It kills me.
I know, Jordan. We know.
No, I’ve never choked with The Masters title on the line and millions of people watching. But, really, does that matter? You play in your league. I play in mine. It’s the same feeling. The same bad, bad, bad feeling when you screw up.
I understand. You’ll be reminded of this for the rest of your life. That won’t be any fun.
You know what’s worse than being reminded of it, though? Not needing reminders.
Decades later, I still remember losing out on No. 6 . And it still bugs me.
I have no earthly reason to feel sorry for Spieth — he made $880,000 in tying for second in Augusta, he’s made more than $23 million in his career, and he’s only 22! — but I certainly can empathize.
I feel for you, Jordan. And please don’t forget: Most everybody can.