Sport as Transcendence

I'm not much of a sports fan, except for golf. It's probably because I still pretend to go out & play golf three or four times a year. Mostly I'm a fan, though. I never understand when people tell me they find golf boring. But then I find football & soccer boring. I used to be a boxing fan, but the sport's corruption finally drove me away. Yesterday afternoon, I watched something like a boxing match on a golf course -- the playoff in the US Open between Tiger Woods & Rocco Mediate. Everyone knows who Tiger Woods is, of course, but unless you follow golf you probably have not heard of Rocco Mediate. Mediate has been playing the tour for twenty years, as several wins, but also a bad back that has nearly driven him out of the game. He's 45 years old and had fallen to 157th in the world rankings. You can read an account of the tournament at the link above, but it came down to Sunday afternoon -- after four rounds of golf over four days on a very long & very difficult Torrey Pines course -- to a tie between Woods & Mediate. Woods played all week with a painful knee, having returned to the game only tow months after arthroscopic surgery. Most golf tournaments that end in a tie go into a sudden death playoff in order to decide the outcome for the Sunday TV audience, but the US Open has stuck with the old-fashioned 18 hole Monday playoff. Which in this case ended in another tie between the two players. Woods won on the first sudden death playoff hole, but Mediate had the moral victory, I think. He played better than Woods over the course of the tournament, but Woods has a way of making luck work for him. Every lucky event has a long history of preparation invisible behind it. The narrative arrived at its inevitable end, with the young hero defeating the wily veteran. The gods love young men, though they make them pay. Woods may have washed out the rest of his season by coming back from injury too soon. In any case, most golf matches -- most sporting events -- are entertainment; but very occasionally sport rises to the level of transcendence. This year's US Open rose to that level. Woods called it "probably my best tournament ever," but by "best" he didn't mean "most brilliant" or "most dominant." He knew he didn't play all that well by his standards. Woods meant "best" in the sense of most difficulty or most competitive or hardest. He meant he was barely able to win.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

5 thoughts on “Sport as Transcendence”

  1. I don’t know. Seems like an awful sacrifice, but I wondered all along if he was coming back too soon. The British Open sure will be different without Woods. But the US Open was as epic a golf match as I’ve ever seen.

  2. i was 11 when we moved to dallas, texas from niagara falls, new york in 1948. my mom of 7 kids was ill
    and my dad got a job as a travelling salesman–a “missionary” who develops a territory–over the five
    states of texas, oklahoma, louisiana, arkansas, new
    nexico. by the time he died 13 years later he was earning $5000.oo a year. we were short on money. my two brothers dave and pete and i caddied at brook hollow golf course across the near highway in north dallas. we caddies always assumed superiority over the golfers we were sent out to from the “caddie pen”. some several years later we got a hold of clubs and a bag and i experienced the shock and shame of being a poor player. i couldn’t believe it! so i haven’t played golf since. my dad who was every kind of sportsman just
    laughed at my consternation & my “onlookers’ superiority”. what i do remember abt being a caddy is the beauty of the course and the great cheap sandwiches and royal crown colas (12 oz)
    sold to caddies in the caddy pen. (i was a hungry
    boy.) our 4 sisters had to baby sit–something we
    did a bit as well and envied us our masculine pursuits. we earned enough to buy lunches, shirts,
    paper for school. we were lucky kids able to earn.
    i kept caddying now and them right up into graduate school when i had the time & needed $.
    edward mycue

  3. I was just curious about the “is it worth it” because sportcasters often say that Tiger Woods is “chasing history” (generally taken to mean Jack Nicholas, I assume) in terms of record number of titles. But I think guys like Woods and Roger Federer and Lance Armstrong also want to be part of epic competitions and epic rivalries. In addition to dominance over time, they want those “one for the ages” moments. Sounds like Woods got that, though at a steep price. (Of course, one would have to be Tiger Woods to answer the question.)

  4. Jennifer, if he’s chasing history he’s currently winning — at least he’s ahead of schedule in terms of catching most of the major records. So if he recovers from this without problems, it will have been worth it, I suppose. I do wonder sometimes, though, about the obsession in modern golf with power. Many of Woods’ best performances seem to have occurred when he took a few percent off the swing & hit more fairways. I’m a huge fan of Woods & of golf in general, but I wish the courses American players compete on would be set up to demand greater accuracy off the tee.

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