Zach Johnson victorious with an assist from the Bible, while McIlroy is missed but not that much.
In a continuation of a summer of unseasonably high winds, the Open Championship saw a Monday conclusion for only the second time since 1860 –the other being 1988 – with Zach Johnson picking up a second major victory, eight years subsequent to his maiden success at Augusta. A devout Christian, Johnson relied on a biblical verse –Psalms 24:17 as it happens- to provide focus and calm throughout his final day’s play, right up until Louis Oosthuizen’s putt rolled by the cup on the twenty-second and final green of Monday’s play to give Johnson a deserved if unexpected win. Truly though, it was Johnson’s terrific handling of inclement conditions allied with an extremely fluent putter which led to victory for one of the world’s tidiest –in a sporting context- and most consistent players over the last three years. In the early afternoon, the leaderboard was an unsettled jumble of names with the top five positions in constant rotation particularly as the front nine holes were negotiated. The elements do not aid a player around the entirety of a links course however, and through the back nine the wind at St. Andrews bore its teeth, putting a defiant halt to any highfalutin notions of a course record.
Jordan Spieth, discarded by history, for now at least, by just a few inches was valiant in defeat, while his playing partner, Jason Day -after four seconds at majors in serious nearly-man mode- was left to rue some pretty ordinary iron play on his way back as he too missed the playoff by a shot. Without dwelling on Spieth –particularly in a week where he tied for fourth- it is hard to ignore the nervelessness and resilience that are to forefront of his game, not to mention his phenomenal putting, which will assuredly lead to many more successes at major championships. Spieth’s achievements will, and indeed already have demanded endless attention, so it would be remiss, and frankly ignorant to ignore the Champion Golfer of the Year, Zach Johnson. Humble and earnest, the archetypal mid-westerner, the thirty-nine year old was philosophical in noting that his patience this week garnered the ultimate prize after he missed out on a playoff with Spieth and Tom Willis just a week earlier at the John Deere Classic.
It was somewhat interesting that Johnson was led to say that it was the Bible that provided him with patience, while also acknowledging that his management of the course and superb putting were equally important in getting him over the line. Sportspeople, Americans in particular, are well known for crediting a large chunk of their ability and prowess to God –in their preferred form- while often overlooking the fact that it was their immense skill, dedication and ability which probably lead them to success. And, Zach Johnson is as god-fearing a man as the state of Iowa has produced. Putting your beliefs or lack thereof aside, Johnson’s reliance on the bible’s teachings is no more preposterous or unusual than attending a sports psychologist. The benefits of psychology to sportspeople are unquestioned, but if Johnson has found solace and direction in a book –as many others have- then why not?
Testing the general attitude after Monday’s final round, it was difficult to say that there was excitement surrounding the American’s victory. It goes without saying that, as a two-time major winner, the thirty-nine-year-old is an immensely talented golfer. Nonetheless, colourful characters are far more appealing and it is unfortunate –purely from a superficial aspect- that Johnson’s blandness is, oxymoronically, his standout characteristic. One suspects he could not care less but with so many romantic (Paul Dunne, Padraig Harrington) and historic (Jordan Spieth) possibilities available the Open Championship 2015 ended on somewhat of an anti-climax, although in the context of a three-way four-hole playoff that may be a hard point to sell.
A quick word on Rory McIlroy. While any tournament is the lesser for his absence, it is fantastic to see that golf does not rely on his presence in the same manner it used on Tiger Woods in the 2000s. For many reasons –none more obvious than Tiger breaking down the stuffy, antiquated, interminably white door of golf for minority competitors- Woods was a unique, once in a generation player whose impact was farther reaching than perhaps any sportsman before or since. Woods broke down barriers and made golf cool, accessible and appealing for quite literally millions of people. McIlroy does have remarkable box office draw however, as proven by the global adulation garnered on him after last year’s double major triumph. Still, his loss has undoubtedly been tempered by the earlier than expected arrival of Jordan Spieth as a true player but also by the more pronounced depth in the field. In any event, McIlroy’s absence proved comprehensively that the show goes on, while also whetting the appetite for his and Spieth’s countless, future showdowns.
The recent dominance by McIlroy and Spieth has made many of us overly expectant that virtually every major in the foreseeable future will be a two man argument. While they are undoubtedly the two best golfers in the world, they are not the best every week as proven so clearly by Zach Johnson. Spieth and McIlroy may eventually take each other to different planes of brilliance –as Federer and Nadal once did- but the chasing pack are not going to step aside and wilfully admire their exploits. This week the elder empire struck back. And, with thanks to an impeccable putter and some reassuring scripture, the thirty-nine-year-old Zach Johnson railed, ever so politely, against those who say golf is becoming the exclusive preserve of young men.