1. I am such an idiot. At Winged Foot in 2006, Phil Mickelson had three major titles on his resume and the chance to finally land the big one that got away. Phil had suffered U.S. Open near-misses at Pinehurst, Bethpage Black and Shinnecock Hills, and all he needed was a par at the 18th to win this Open, or a bogey to force a playoff. You know the rest. It was Jean Van de Velde all over again, only with trees instead of grandstands and a water hazard.
Mickelson blocked a tee shot left off a hospitality tent, took two to get out of the trees, blasted out of a bunker and made a double-bogey 6 to blow the Open in New York, where he is a huge crowd favorite. His subsequent self-effacing quote, “I am such an idiot,” said it all and made Mickelson the new poster boy of major championships squandered. At least in golf, that’s only a temporary position. (For details, see Colin Montgomerie, Scott Hoch, Greg Norman or Kenny Perry, to name a few.)
2. The Battle of Augusta. What if … Masters chairman Hootie Johnson had just ignored the letter from Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations? We might have been spared a year of unseemly — and ultimately wasted — animosity over the absence of women at Augusta National Golf Club. Instead, Johnson hit back, and his comment that the club wouldn’t change its policies “at the point of a bayonet” started a year-long war that led up to the 2003 Masters.
Burk went from relative unknown to a regular guest on national news shows, and she enjoyed strong backing from the New York Times, which editorially urged Tiger Woods to boycott the tournament, USA Today and the Washington Post. When Burk shrewdly began to apply gender-based political pressure to advertisers, Johnson outflanked her by canceling all tournament sponsorships. The battle dragged on for months, and Burk promised that picketing protestors in Augusta “will give those good old boys the vapors.”
Long saga short: Burk was denied permits to demonstrate near Augusta National’s main gate and had to move the protest elsewhere. What protest? Fewer than a hundred demonstrators showed up. Score a win for Johnson as the Masters went on uninterrupted. Two years later, the tournament sponsors were back on board.
The only real winners, as usual, were the lawyers. Burk sued the city of Augusta over its protest ordinance and won a favorable ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the city to pay $150,000 in NCWO legal fees. When the court refused to hear an appeal, city officials negotiated a $120,000 settlement.
3. American idols. The U.S. Ryder Cup team was at rock bottom going into the 2008 Ryder Cup, having won only one of the last six Cups, including consecutive 9.5-point thumpings in 2004 and 2006. So captain Paul Azinger drew up a new points system and grouped his players in four-man pods according to personality type, which built familiarity during practice rounds. Azinger made all the right moves as his relaxed-but-determined lineup (minus the injured Tiger Woods) defeated Europe by a satisfying five-point margin to regain the Cup.
J.B. Holmes, one of Azinger’s picks, came up big in singles, as did Kentucky native Kenny Perry, who heeded Azinger’s advice on how to minimize the pressure of playing in front of his vocal home-state supporters.
Lightly regarded Boo Weekley was unbeaten and provided the moment that symbolized Team USA’s fun approach. In his Sunday’s singles match, he hilariously galloped off the first tee riding his driver like a pony. The enthusiastic fans responded to Azinger’s request to become the 13th man and gave the event a loud, football game-like atmosphere. “After this,” Golf Channel analyst Steve Flesch said, “the next tour event is going to seem like a member-guest.”
President George Bush invited the victorious team to the White House, where a wowed Weekley, who had an upcoming hunting trip planned, had the last word. “The only thing that would top this year off any better for me,” he said, “would be to go out and get me a big deer.”