A funny thing happened on Sunday. I was watching a golf tournament
and a NASCAR race at Talledega broke out. These fine-tuned machines,
with the exception of a stocky one from Argentina, were fighting for
position while barrelling toward the finish. There were no restrictor
plates, just a bunch of guys hell bent on glory, throwing caution to the wind.
It was white-knuckle time. The slightest of errors would crush the chance
for sports immortality. One mistake, and you could lose control, turning a
nice Sunday drive, into an unforgettable disaster. Remember Greg Norman
at the Masters in 1996. He was up by six shots with 18 holes to play.
The Butler cabin already had the chairs lined up, and his jacket size
ordered. However, he spun out and wound up like Rusty Wallace
in 1993 at Talledega. Wallace flipped over seven times before coming
to a stop. His car, a skeleton of its former self, kind of like Norman.
Rory McIlroy made that one crucial mistake, a colossal one that caused
a terrible wreck. You wanted to turn away, or at least put your hands
over your face. But you couldn't. You peaked through your fingers and
watched a gut-wrenching disaster.
McIlroy, in position to win the Masters at just 21-years of age, came
apart right before our very eyes. Like Wallace did 18 years before him, the
golf prodigy walked away without any physical damage, the psychological
effects however, may rear themselves next week, next month, or as
McIlroy hopes, in his next lifetime.
Nobody will ever be able to get inside of McIlroy's head to find out
what he's thinking. But after watching him handle a most public failure,
we certainly know what the kid is made of.
His errant drive on the 10th hole was the start of his epic disaster. Few
of us will ever forget the image of him standing, looking shell-shocked,
as he pontificated his next shot in the shadow of Butler cabin. The misery
for McIlroy didn't end until he tapped in for an 80, a score comparable to
Chipper Jones hitting .210 for the season.
The coveted green jacket in his rear view mirror, and all the critics
straight ahead of him, McIlroy could've made excuses or hid like Rafeal
Soriano after blowing a save earlier this season.
But McIlroy stood tall and acted with amazing class and dignity. His
one car accident was horrific, along the likes of Norman's incredible
wipe out. However, McIlroy vowed to learn from it, and many athletes,
including Tiger Woods, should learn from him, as well.
During his spectacular crash, McIlroy didn't slam a club, drop an f-bomb,
stare down a restless photographer, or act like a petulant 5-year old
who didn't get his way. The kid kept his composure and never really
lost his temper. Oh, sure he flung his putter after 3-jacking on the 12th
hole. But it was more of a surrender than a Tiger Woods attempt at
a record javelin throw with his putter.
McIlroy envisioned walking up the 18th fairway to a thunderous
applause, the prelude to being crowned a champion. But after blowing
a big-lead on the final day, it must've felt like golf's walk of shame.
A stroll accompanied by incredible pain, and incessant thoughts
of what might have been. An opportunity lost, and the story
of a major collapse written. Rory managed a little smile and gave
a tip of the hat, thanking the patrons for trying to ease the torture
that came about from his nine-hole hell.
Unfortunately, McIlroy's meltdown will be etched in the annals of
Masters history, along side Norman and the choke of Scott Hoch.
But his pure class and the way in which he handled an embarrassing
failure, will be respected and remembered for a long time as well.
McIlroy may have lost the tournament, but he won over a great deal