The Breakdown: Great vs. good
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Normally, postgame interviews can be about as compelling as a free-throw-shooting contest between Shaq and Dwight Howard. Those interviews end up being either pretty ugly or just plain pointless to watch. No outcome is worth the time.
Well, that is with an exception: An athlete talking after what should have been an emotionally devastating loss.
You know, like Sunday’s U.S. Open – for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
(Note: This isn’t entirely about golf, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t have an appreciation for a sport so rigorous that the athletes are able to wear neatly ironed shirts and pleated pants throughout their competition.)
Both players talked for less than a minute (Tiger less than 15 seconds), and those short blurbs summed up their entire careers.
In case you didn’t watch the final-round action at Pebble Beach, the performances of the world’s top two players (and the two best players of a generation) can be summed up in one word: gag.
Sure, Tiger was far from at his best, and Mickelson, well, I’m not even sure how to describe his left-right, up-and-down, bizarrely inconsistent (even for him) showing.
Still, given the circumstances, both had an incredible shot at winning golf’s hardest championship while everyone around them fell apart.
So, how did they react after losing?
Tiger looked as though he was either about to cry or shove NBC’s Mark Rolfing’s fuzzy microphone where the sun doesn’t shine. He gave one sentence of explanation, and Rolfing sensed instantly to end the interview and let him leave.
Mickelson, on the other hand, simply smiled his patented, goofy smile and said that he enjoyed having the chance to win.
Really? You’ve finished runner-up a record five times in your sport’s biggest event, an event – which won – would change everyone’s perspective on his nonchalant career, and all he says is he’s happy to have the chance to win?
Sorry, but I think flappable Phil showed exactly why he hasn’t ever won one and why – despite being, arguably, the most talented player in the world for nearly 20 years – he’s never risen to No. 1 in the rankings.
At the same time, Tiger showed exactly why he (normally) squashes players lacking in testicular fortitude: It kills him to lose. No matter the circumstances, no matter how rusty he should be or how sloppy his game may look, if Tiger doesn’t win, he’s going to furious.
Maybe Mickelson’s a more-rounded person and has more to his life than holding up silver cups. And maybe Tiger, well, definitely Tiger doesn’t – at least right now.
But in those short glimpses of each player, we completely saw the difference between a very good athlete and a great one.
Every great athlete I’ve ever watched in my life has the killer instinct, that win-or-nothing mentality. They’ll do whatever it takes for a title – opponents, teammates, media and fans be darned.
It’s the difference between a Michael Jordan and a Charles Barkley, a Derek Jeter and a Ken Griffey Jr., a Lance Armstrong and a, um, other good bike-riding-type guy.
It’s the reason why the greats of each sport are so entertaining to watch and why every fan loves having them on their team. Really, these are the only guys that care as much about the team winning as their fans do.
Granted, a lot of the time, what makes them so compelling during competition is their downfall off it. Just look at Tiger.
But give me the choice between watching a smiling, family guy Phil or a kick-you-in-your-teeth Tiger and I’ll take Tiger every time.
From a pure entertainment standpoint, nothing is better than watching a great athlete show exactly what makes them a great athlete.
Anything else, well, it’s not much different than Shaq clanking freebies.
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