[Web Special] A Fab Father's Day Weekend in Sports

Monday, June 22, 2009 - 06:19 AM

Who is Father’s Day for? At the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island, Father’s Day is for the fathers who love golf, on the longest day of the year, in the middle of a dreary four days of rain – all to get a glimpse of the best golf in the country.

The U.S. Open is run by the USGA (United States Golf Association), not the PGA, the Professional Golf Association. This means that some of the players who made the cut going into the final rounds were not even playing for money, simply for the love of the game and competition. Amateurs, like some people in the crowd.

Drenched, deluged fans surrendered to beer, were drunk and slung offensive outbursts. But hey, it’s a public course. Like the Phoenix Open with its have legendarily unruly fans, the folks were there on Sunday to party. The U.S. Open is the national championship of golf – like the NCAA’s March Madness and the Superbowl – attracting sports fan and revelers of all types.

On the approach, cell phones were not allowed, and little Northside Elementary school had police and security of all jurisdictions in their parking lot. Once I got through all the security and the confusion I came upon Bethpage Black. The course is long. Tiger Woods – seven behind the leader going into the last day — said, “The greens are so bumpy and slow. They’re getting slower and slower.” The conditions have made the usually firm surface less forgiving. There were few birdies. Conditions did not keep Ricky Barnes from setting himself up for a historic finish – if he can hold on and keep Lucas Glover, Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, David Duval, and Ross Fisher off his back for another round he came make history his first year as a pro. Continue reading

The crowd seems to be behind Phil Mickelson. Charging up at five behind the leader, he said, “This is a very difficult golf course. Its long. The rough is very difficult.” I caught Phil on the 17th hole. “Lets Go, Mickelson!” chanted the crowd as he moved to tee. His shot was skillful and the ball landed on the green. The chants continued as he moved through the dramatic approach, where the rough clears for a thin path, dipping down a hill, so that all the spectators can follow your every move. Crowds spilled out of bleachers as he triumphantly made his way, carrying his iron in the right hand. They resumed the chants as he started surveying the scene. When he stepped on the green the crowd reached a fever pitch and he broke a smile. Mickelson's wife Amy is fighting breast cancer; the couple has three children. This Father’s Day is for Mickelson, and he made the most of it, pulling himself into contention.

Father’s Day was also for the fans. I sat near Patrick Russell and his two grown sons. Tall, gregarious folks drinking beer after beer. At one point the boys lost their dad as he made a beer run. The golf got closer. The stands I sat in were “marshaled” by three volunteers from the Executive Women’s Golf Association. The Brothers Russell implored the women to let one of them go find their dad. The crowd was packed with a line ready for any place that opened up. The rule was: move you feet, lose your seat. Well, the ladies waived the rule, citing Fathers Day, and moments later the Russell Patriarch returned with his son and the bleachers went crazy, ending their applause, with “Hug, Hug, Hug” chants. They hugged. Father’s Day was for everyone.

They say golfers are a special breed of human being, it is a game that reveals your character, your mental stamina and self-control. Mickelson was willed into good shots by the raucous crowd that seemed to lift him up to the challenge. Tiger shot well but is playing poorly on the greens. Barnes has been pulling his shots into bogeys, and Duval is creeping in the high grass. The final day is nigh, the players are resting, and the fans, well, you know how they can be, I should have known how serious it was when I saw people with boots and galoshes getting on the Long Island Rail Road.

Now, to Wimbeldon, the greatest stage in tennis. Rafael Nadal, the world number one and the number one seed, pulled out late last week with sore knees. Now Roger becomes the instant favorite. He's not quite 28, the same age as Pete Sampras when he won his last Wimbledon. If Federer wins here, he'll get his 14th Grand Slam title, breaking out of his current tie with Sampras. The Americans are led by Andy Roddick, James Blake, and Mardy Fish. But the real guy to watch is the Brit Andy Murray. He’s beaten Nadal and Federer before, is on his home court, and will have tremendous support from the British fans. Murray is in great shape, has a killer backhand and could make himself legendary with a win here. A few other guys to watch are Gilles Simon, the Frenchman who has been gaining steam, Fernando Verdasco, Nadal’s understudy from Spain.

Since 2000, Venus and Serena Williams have won 7 0f 9 times here (they've gone head-to-head for the title three times). I love these girls because they are former phenoms that have lived up to their hype. They have done it maintaining healthy lives, kept their sanity, and still have outside interests. They are all-around winners and Wimbeldon is made for them to continue to perform. Chasing Venus and Serena is Maria Sharapova, the 2004 champ on her return from injury. If she could make it back to the final then the comeback trail would be complete. A host of young women are chomping at the bit. This includes former #1 Ana Ivanovic and the recently successful Elena Dementieva.

Wimbeldon’s pageantry, its tradition echo off of the grass with each shot. Players know the world is watching, and the royalty is judging, and the clock is ticking – they have to fight the weather, their opponents, but most importantly, they have to fight themselves. Usually a group of players dominates for a decade. The current dominant players are getting older, they are reaching that peak age where they may start to lose some of that dominance. This could be the year and the tournament where either the stars cement their place in the books or relent to the youth charging up the hill.

And finally let's look at soccer. The American team was on the verge of a first-round elimination in the Confederation cup. The Unites States team needed to win by 3 points, and they needed Italy to lose to Brasil in order to advance to the next round. Both of those things happened!

The American team showed spirit, personality, and grit beating the Egyptians 3-0. It was an inspirational performance. Team USA advances, drawing Spain on Wednesday. Spain is unbeaten in 35 matches and is playing the best soccer in the world. Good luck, USA, and world, get ready for South Africa 2010 – World Cup fever is well underway!

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