I wish I were as sure of everything as I was that Larry Mize was going to win the Masters golf tournament Sunday.
He was a lock.
Oh, I know a lot of people thought he was in tough, in a playoff with the registered giants of the game, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros.
Not me. I felt sorry for Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. I knew one of them would be walking off the course weeping before the afternoon was over. I knew that baby-faced kid had them right where he wanted them. It was like watching two guys walk into Dracula's castle.
You see, I know that old harlot, Golf. I've seen her act before. She is the most unjust of the forces of fate in our realm, sports.
A friend of mine called me up to glow about the course of the tournament Saturday night. "Isn't it wonderful? What a great leader board! Ben Crenshaw! Seve! Greg Norman! Bernhard Langer! Lanny Wadkins! Tom Watson's right there!"
I listened sourly. "Forget it," I told him. "Look down the board till you come to somebody who's never won a tournament, or won only one tournament or hasn't made a cut in six weeks. Bet the house on him."
When I switched on the telly Sunday afternoon, I noticed that some non-winner called Jodie was shooting the lights out and I thought to myself, "Swell! The tournament which once belonged to Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Demaret, Palmer, Player and Nicklaus is going to be won by a guy whose name is Mudd. Figures."
Well, when Jodie faded, I looked right past the Hall of Famers, the multiple winners, and tried to focus in on the one who had the profile of the winner the great game would choose.
It's not a game, it's a hoodoo. A malevolent spirit. It hates real prowess. It punishes virtuosity. It has contempt for ability.
Look at its record. Look what it does to its own champions. Can anyone ever forget when Ben Hogan, winner of 62 tournaments and four U.S. Opens, went up to the Open in San Francisco in 1955 and appeared to have it locked up--and then a guy who had won only one tournament in his career came along and one-putted him out of it?
Want to recall any of the times Arnold Palmer got in a playoff for the Open or played in a PGA with a guy he never saw from tee to green but who beat him by two shots?
When I saw Larry Mize in the middle of that pack of immortals, I knew I had my man. I knew Golf had her man. He had all the credentials. He had won only one tournament in his life. He was just a nice kid with the slow swing that something could go wrong with.
There are a million of them out there, and here he was in a crowd shot with guys who have won British Opens, Masters, PGAs, international tournaments by the score, guys who get nicknames like the Great White Shark, the Bear, Gentle Ben.
It didn't matter. If you knew golf, you could almost see the halo around his head.
You just \o7 knew\f7 he was going to make that putt on 18. Just as you knew Norman was going to blow his 10 minutes later.
When they started the playoff, the world clucked sympathetically. Poor kid in there with those sharks, those internationally experienced players. A mismatch, surely. A boy in a man's game.
There's no such thing as an underdog on a golf course. There is no such thing as a favorite. I think the silliest thing I see all year in all sports is the posting of a "favorite" to win a golf tournament.
It is the conceit of the golfing public, indeed the sporting public, that experience is crucial when a match reaches crisis stage, that the greenhorn, the unknown, the not famous, will choke in a contest with the greats of the game.
I mean, what do they have to lose? They should be thrilled just to be there. If you are a mediocre player who suddenly finds himself in a playoff with Jack Nicklaus or Greg Norman or Seve Ballesteros, who is the pressure on?
If Nicklaus beats you, the world shrugs and so do you and they think, "Well, so what? Jack Nicklaus is \o7 supposed \f7 to beat this rinky-dink."
If, on the other hand, the rinky-dink wins, the whole world feels uplifted, reaffirmed. It's like a Horatio Alger story so dear to the heart of the American public who love to feel they're for the underdog.
But an underdog, by definition, is the one with the most to gain. The least to lose. This must have a mighty calming effect on the nerves. This might even turn you into an overdog.
The commentators made much of the wide-of-the-green shot Larry Mize made on the second playoff hole Sunday. Hey! That was the place to be. Ben Hogan himself once said, "If I'm not to the right of the green on No. 11 at Augusta, I've missed the shot."
But, that's another thing about golf. The guy who has played the hole impeccably, who is standing on a green in regulation while his opponent is scraping his way out of a forest or hip-high elephant grass frequently has to stand there and watch the scrambler pitch in over his head.
It happened to Greg Norman at the last major tournament played, the PGA in Toledo last August, when Bob Tway holed out of a bunker on him.
The only consolation I can think of is, if Greg Norman had been a nobody out of nowhere trying to win his second tournament or in only his second year on the tour, Golf would have let him win it. As it is, guys like him have no chance in these situations. Trust me. I know this malicious old broad. She'd take a hammer to a statue.