On the Mark: Watson is a nice story, but ...
It was a nice story, 59-year-old Tom Watson with a clean shot to win the British Open. You didn't even have to watch the commercials to understand where this was all headed: a saint for the Cialis class.
downlevel descriptionThis video requires the Adobe Flash Player. Download a free version of the player.
But let's be honest here, golf is a game for 59 year olds. As a celebration of the traditional athletic virtues — endurance, strength and speed — it just doesn't rank.
I'm not demeaning Watson's accomplishment in competing for his first major title since 1983. Nor am I looking to pick one of those golf-isn't-a-sport fights. Golf is what it is. But unlike most sports, it's not really a struggle against time. The golfer, unlike other athletes, doesn't equate middle-age with mortality. Sam Snead shot a 60 when he was 71.
You often hear of the humiliations visited upon athletes who've stayed too long. There's Willie Mays sliding around the outfield at Shea. There's Muhammad Ali being demolished by Larry Holmes, and later, worse, Trevor Berbick.
But Watson risked none of that, the physical degradation. Fact is, the aged golfer plays with house money. Hey, it's not as if Tom Watson had to take a punch. A little context is in order.
Toward that end, I called the man who committed the single greatest age-defying act I've ever seen, maybe in the history of sport. On Nov. 5, 1994, two months shy of his 46th birthday, George Foreman regained the heavyweight championship of the world — 20 years after he had famously lost it in Zaire.
Foreman's is a woefully under-mentioned accomplishment. In knocking out Michael Moorer — then a highly-skilled champion of 27 — he demonstrated extraordinary endurance, steadfast maturity, and of course, breathtaking power. It was a calculated strategy — taking a brutal beating for nine rounds, eating Moorer's right jab just to get his chance. Then, in the 10th, Moorer dropped his hands, and Foreman dropped Moorer. There was a left, followed by short right. Just the way Foreman had planned.
Reminds us of ...
"It had to go like that," he recalled Monday afternoon.
So what did he think of Watson on Sunday, I asked.
"I was pulling so much for him," he said.
Sure. Who wasn't? But how can you compare a fighter and a golfer?
"Golf is really a game of skill — eyesight, coordination. There's nothing in that man's mind that was off," he said. "He could be a great general."
In fact, Foreman — now 60 — couldn't bear to watch the final round. With Watson leading on the last day, Foreman turned off the television. "Got scared," he said. "I chickened out."
He kept talking about how "we've raised the bar," what Watson's victory would've meant "if we had won that tournament . . . "
We. I'd like to think he was talking, not just of himself, but of Nolan Ryan, Gordie Howe, Dara Torres, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Mark Martin, Martina Navratilova and yes, Brett Favre, each of whom has demonstrated an epic ability to defy time. Ultimately, each sport becomes a marathon. Why do you think so many ballplayers resort to steroids and HGH? Performance enhancers are also career-extenders.
But back to golf. Golfers don't take punches, but Foreman admires them just the same. "That's the only sport I tried and never got better at," he said.
As for Watson, I argue that he didn't show the composure or the fortitude against Stewart Cink that Foreman showed against Michael Moorer. Nevertheless, Foreman seems ever in his debt. "He showed it again," said Foreman. "Age is nothing. Nothing."
Still, it's more than that. "Old Tom got people talking about Old George," he said. "Brought George's name alive again."
On the Mark
You heard about this 81-year-old NASCAR driver?
Just hope the crew chief tells him when he leaves his blinker on.
The way I'm hearing it, ESPN had to call in grief counselors after Tiger Woods was eliminated from the British Open.