Father's Day was good. I spent it with my dad, doing one of his favorite things: watching golf. Rory McIlroy came into the last round up eight shots, birdied the first hole, and we gave up any thoughts of seeing something dramatic, if not awe-inspiring. The galleries at Congressional commenced to laugh tracking the chant "LET'S GO, ROR-EE!" because we are trained to applaud greatness when we see it, which is good.
Despite the casual feelings of envy and jealousy that can creep in when witnessing something so naturally perfect as McIlroy's golf swing, it is good to watch human achievement; there is a sense of pride at knowing you are of the same species as something that can not be improved upon (and it would be difficult to improve upon McIlroy's performance), even if the witnessing is also humbling. Many men were humbled this past weekend, by a 22-year old--some for a second time.
While it feels good to watch Rory McIlroy, it does not feel good to watch his peers. Y.E. Yang, despite being a Major champion himself, looked thin with anonymity on Sunday, while Phil Mickelson was plump with middle age. Sergio looked too frustrated and burdened by coming up short to hop or to skip or to put up a fight, and a generation of young golfers looked much too comfortable settling into a pecking order. To a certain extent, Rory McIlroy was the only golfer to attend his own coronation. Everyone else could be counted present, but they weren't there; and the most notable absentee was Tiger Woods.
While Rory stormed through Congressional like the Pied Piper or a young William the Conqueror, with his father just outside the ropes, Tiger was supposedly at home, rehabbing physically, spiritually, and emotionally, possibly remembering his father and missing the man who made him, or, perhaps, just missing the athlete he once was. Either way, Rory McIlroy, on Sunday, was closer to the two things we know Tiger held most dear: winning and his father.
Three practice rounds. A first round. A second round. A third round. And a fourth. That's a lot of golf to watch. That's a lot of golf and a lot of trips up and down I-95 and west on the Prince William Parkway and up Route 28 to Dulles. And it's definitely a lot of shuttle buses--fourteen to be exact. And who knows how many golf shots: drives, fairway woods, long irons, wedges, chips and puts. Safe to say, it was too many to count. By Sunday, my Dad who lives and breathes golf was tired of watching, and when McIlroy almost holed out on number ten, we were walking towards the gates.
It's not that what the Irishman was doing wasn't impressive, but my father and I were at Augusta when Tiger was a skinny amateur named Eldrick and we were at home watching when he conquered that course in 1997. I was converted by those red-shirted fist pumps, and my father--a life long Jack Nicklaus fan--fought every single one of them as if they were an attack on his world view, which placed Nicklaus on top of golf's greatest throne. But now Tiger's vanquished so many courses and humbled so many opponents that the throne feels like it's shared by the two men, or that they share the responsibilities of being the greatest much like a king and a Prime Minister, and for Rory McIlroy to even compare, he's going to have to drop his driver in Amen Corner and have it turn into a snake, or turn the waves at Pebble Beach red with blood. One miracle isn't enough, and even after a dominating win at Congressional, there's still the problem of competing with real life.
When Tiger first won the Masters, I was fourteen; now I'm twenty-seven, and during the last round, I saw kids fourteen and younger looking at Rory McIlroy with my fourteen year old eyes, the ones that carved golfers into giants, but I didn't have those eyes anymore.
I had spent the last thirteen years growing older and the last week looking at houses with my fiancee, and on Saturday, before going to the Open with my dad, we had put our second bid down on the house we wanted to be our first home, so all day Sunday, between shots, my hands went down to my pockets, finding only lint (the USGA doesn't allow phones on the premises). And as my Dad and I rode the shuttle bus back to where our car was parked, my heart was filled with the sinking feeling that when I turned my phone on I would discover, like Sergio, that once again someone else had put down a better bid on my future. Pressing my thumb down on the PWR END button, all my anxiety proved true: someone else was going to live in that house, leaving my fiancee and I to start our search over from scratch. Life is so often about regrouping, even in victory arises the question of what to do next, and human beings have to do both in the course of a lifetime.
On the way home, my father and I passed near the neighborhood where the new house would have been, about the time Rory McIlroy was probably preparing to walk down the eighteenth fairway. We talked some about golf, but we also talked about other things, like work and houses, and I started to think about what it was like not to just appreciate him but to become him, and while Rory McIlroy's father was extremely close to him on a very good day that will hopefully be the first of many, I wondered who does Tiger Woods have on what was surely a difficult Father's Day for a man uncomfortable with any emotion that's not as decisive as a fist pump. How does he regroup, in golf and in life?