I asked BPI to send me to cover the U.S. Open golf tournament this weekend. Instead they sent me to cover President Obama’s golf outing with Speaker Boehner. I was grumpy at first, but it turned out better than I expected.
Not their golf outing. That turned out to be a non-story. In fact, they sent the press away after the first hole, so I had time to get across town to watch the U.S. Open after all. I didn’t have a press pass, but as a squirrel it was easy to climb the fence and watch from the trees. But I couldn’t see the entire course, so I found the webcast on my Blewberry.
As a red squirrel, my ancestors hail from Scotland. That’s the birthplace of golf, so of course I’m a fan of the game. I play at miniature golf courses, which are full-sized courses for squirrels. Or they would be if full-sized human courses had windmills in the middle of the fairways. As a purist, those make me grumpy. The baby says I get grumpy because I can never time my drive right, but that’s another story.
Regardless, I’m enjoying the brilliant play of 22-year-old Rory McIlroy. His fluid swing and youthful exuberance are a joy to watch, and he’s already set several records this week, including the lowest score ever at any point in a U.S. Open at 14 under par.
That number would not be noteworthy in most professional golf tournaments. But the Open is set up to be a difficult test. The fairways are narrower. The rough is deeper. The greens, even with the rain this week, are fast. Last year, Graeme McDowell won the Open at even par. In 2007, Angel Cabrera won at 5 over. Only one player in U.S. Open history has finished at 10 under or better: Tiger Woods in 2000.
And this year’s Open has been difficult … for everyone except McIlroy. His nearest competitor is Y.E. Yang from South Korea, at 6 under. Eight shots back.
So of course the big story is whether McIlroy will choke again. He teed off on Sunday at this year’s Masters with a four-stroke lead, and his mishaps and mistakes on the way to an 8-over round of 80 became instant fodder for sports psychologists and assorted pundits. And that’s not just the big story online. Every reporter at the U.S. Open is asking McIlroy whether and how he can forget what happened at the Masters.
Hint: It’s easier for him to forget if you stop asking him about it.
To his credit, McIlroy has been gracious with the questions. He answers, again and again, that everyone has bad days, and his bad day happened to come on a big stage. Then he mentions his trips to Haiti to help those still recovering from last year’s earthquake – he’s an official UNICEF ambassador – and says it’s important to things in perspective. “Nobody died because I had a bad day at the Masters,” he told one interviewer.
If concern trolling happened only in golf, I wouldn’t care. But it happens everywhere in the media. When things are going well, too often the story is what could go wrong. When things are not going well, the story is usually how much worse they might get. What could go right, and how best to make that possible, gets lost in the din.
It’s useful to consider what can go wrong, and take what steps we can to prevent it. But focusing exclusively on what could go wrong can leave us jaded and cynical. We start to expect the worst, always. Sure, it’s been a good day so far, but you just wait….
So I’m going to enjoy watching the final round today. I’ll chitter for McIlroy from the trees and hope he continues to play well. He has the skills and the perspective to dazzle us all, and I’ll be thrilled when he hoists the U.S. Open trophy this evening.
Then I’ll start worrying about what might go wrong with my flight home.
Good day and good nuts.