A contrast in styles at the Masters
What a Masters. So many lasting images. In addition to Phil Mickelson’s daring, devil-may-care shotmaking down the stretch, the image that sticks in my mind is of Fred Couples ambling along Augusta’s rolling green fairways as carefree and relaxed as can be. On his feet were a pair of sport-hybrid shoes. No socks, of course. If he’s not the coolest golfer on the planet, I don’t know who is. In addition to his casual Friday footwear, all Fred needs now is a clothing contract with Tommy Bahama. A nice pair of khakis and an island-print golf shirt to go with the shoes. Then he would be uber-cool from head to toe.
Back to the shoes. Fred was wearing Ecco’s new Golf Street Premier, a versatile hybrid shoe designed to be worn both on and off the course. According to the New Hampshire-based company, pre-molded traction bars provide players with ideal stability and comfort. Belying their casual appearance, these shoes have built-in technologies, including an internal stabilizer to reduce torque; a cushioned double-layer insole to absorb heel force and reduce stress on the knees, hips and back; and Stinger cleats from Champ to provide traction and grip. In sum, the shoes were designed to create an ideal platform for a balanced swing. (Too bad they can’t produce a drowsy tempo and fluid action, a la Freddie).
“The Golf Street’s outsole has roughly 100 molded traction bars and over 800 traction angles versus a standard golf shoe’s six to nine cleats,” says C.B. Tuite, general sales manager, Ecco USA Golf Division. “It’s no wonder Fred Couples relied on it during one of the most important golf tournaments of the year.”
Setting aside the funky color pops and metal-rivet accents, Ecco’s new model is a very comfortable shoe clearly aimed at Boomers who prize both comfort and performance. Worn sockless in a major, Couples, who walks with languid grace and seems to truly enjoy his line of work, has made them cool.
Maybe Tiger should get a pair. Like many viewers, I was encouraged by his forthrightness during the televised media session on Monday of The Masters week. He seemed transformed by his experiences, humbled by his therapy. I was happy the crowds received him warmly during his practice rounds. I didn’t expect boos, but the fans welcomed him back with an open embrace. I couldn’t help noticing that he was paying more attention to those around him than to his position on The Masters leaderboard. He seemed to be more aware of his surroundings, more considerate of those who clapped for him.
Then the gun went off. During the first two rounds with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar, Woods seemed to have his emotions in check. He didn’t have his ‘A’ game, but after a five-month, scandal-plagued layoff, wasn’t a fair amount of uneven play to be expected?
Then came the weekend. It turns out a Tiger doesn’t change his stripes that easily. During the final round on Sunday, we saw the old Eldrick, by turns taciturn and cold, bristling with rage when his body failed to produce what his mind had conjured. Tiger was bred to be a step-on-their-throats, show-no-mercy champion by a Green Beret father. He is a perfectionist who makes extraordinary demands upon himself to produce the desired result. Usually it makes for great theater, but not this time. The fact that he finished tied for fourth at 11 under par for the tournament, five strokes behind the winner, is a testament to his will and his talent, but Tiger wasn’t having any of it. (Needless to say, most players would have missed the cut with their ‘B’ or ‘C’ games).
I could have accepted his on-course histrionics, his mutterings and admonishments to himself about “sticking it in the ground” one too many times, but his post-round interview with Peter Kostis undid all the goodwill he had built up earlier in the week. “I came here to win, and I didn’t win,” he said in a flat monotone.
It’s one thing to be disappointed, quite another to be peevish and petulant with millions watching, many of whom believed he had turned a corner in his life and career. Instead of talking about the magic of Augusta, how gratified he was by the reception he received, how happy he was to be back in the game, he sulked. What I observed as he spoke to Kostis, his words measured like those of a hired killer, was the glower of his unbridled arrogance.
As the coaches used to tell us in Little League, if you can’t play a sport well, at least be a good sport. Tiger may be the sorest loser I’ve ever seen. Perhaps he should take down that list of majors amassed by Nicklaus, a list he famously tacked to his bedside as a youth, and start watching old videos of Jack, truly one of the game’s great sportsmen. Think back to the arm of congratulation he put around Watson’s shoulders after the crushing defeat at Turnberry in 1977. The kind words I’m sure he had for Doug Sanders (defeated in a playoff in 1970) and Simon Owen (his final round playing partner in 1978) after his Open triumphs in St. Andrews.
Think back to Tiger’s body language after Y.E. Yang beat him fair and square at Hazeltine for the 2009 PGA Championship. Clearly in a state of shock that someone had stood up to him in the final round of a major and outperformed him, he gave Yang a wet fish of a handshake and departed the green in a near-comatose state, a picture of emotional distress. But then, maybe his hand-held mobile device was blinking or vibrating.
In the end, it is always and only about HIM. I don’t believe Tiger gives a good goddamn about anything or anyone other than himself. He can cheer for himself when he reaches the top of Mt. Nicklaus.
Phil Knight and Nike, he’s all yours. I’m sticking with super-cool Freddie and the Ecco hybrids.
The Golf Street Premier shoe is available for $140 online at www.eccousa.com.