Thanks to a cancelled last round on the Symetra Tour, I spent most of my Sunday riding the quiet waves of golfing (and football) intrigue – an intoxicatingly intertwined combination of my own and other people’s.
I surprised myself by wanting Aaron Rai to beat Tommy Fleetwood in that playoff, because Fleetwood’s genuine appreciation for the game of golf feels like sitting by the fire with a coffee as the rain lashes down outside. But I watched Rai come undone on the 18th in Ireland the week before, having done so much right, and knew suddenly that winning the Scottish Open would mean more for him than Fleetwood. Not in a financial or prominence way, just to him as a golfer. Maybe that’s ignorant of me to say without knowing either of them at all, but this was one of the thoughts floating isolated in my mind, waiting to be blended with the appropriate understanding.
Then Mel won. And to be honest, I never really expected her not to – with a Sunday lead, with others trying to win for the first time doing their level best to push her, off the back of a missed opportunity two Sundays before. Somebody on Twitter didn’t agree and told her she’d choke, which Mel says she used as fuel. But to me there was just something about that moment that felt like hers; like all those years of talent and tragedy and growth were finally settled together.
And then Sergio won too. With his eyes closed. Which supposedly he’s been doing for years, but it seems was only picked up on this week. Watching him take long enough to make me and every other viewer feel nervous over his 3 footer to win, I wondered if the camera would stay on him long enough to check his eye-status. It did, just, and they closed, and he holed it. The answer he’d given almost exasperatedly earlier in the week was clarified in the smoothness of that transition – “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal”.
Letting all those stories wash over my own reluctantly-building reflections of a 3 day tournament which included 15 birdies but a T-26th finish drew me to this conclusion: golf is about proving things to yourself. The noise and the questions might come from external sources sometimes, but maybe we only notice the ones that mirror our internal doubts. Of course there’s an element of showing off in professional sport; of wanting the world to see how talented you are, to see the things you shouldn’t be capable of but are. But none of us started playing the game to prove something to other people. And I don’t think any of us carry on to do that either. Tiger didn’t keep showing up in majors because he wanted the world to know he could still do it; that he still had it. He wanted to know it himself.
It’s a constant quest for vindication. That what you’re doing, what you’re capable of doing, is good enough. Whether that’s good enough to win on the biggest stage in professional golf or it’s good enough to break 90 in the winter medal, maybe that’s the ultimate understanding. Because golf is the ultimate test in trust. When you’ve seen what you’re capable of, in however tiny or giant of flashes, that’s what guides you. Trusting yourself to find it again, and to be able to find it when it really matters. There might be thousands of pounds on lessons and equipment, and thousands of hours in the gym and holing 5 footers, and thousands of tears and demons when it doesn’t add up, but they all lead to that same question.
When you’re out there in those moments, it’s you against the rest of the field, and it’s you against the golf course. But at the end, really… it’s just you against yourself.