Monday, July 18, 2011

Kicked in the gut

Mention the game of soccer to the average American, and the response is generally lukewarm. For the most part, the average Joe has limited interest in the game. Most of the time, their interest stems from the teams on the field, and with Team USA in the Women's World Cup final, interest was higher than usual.

The Americans held 1 goal leads, twice in the game, only to see Japan erase the margins both times, force penalty kicks, and ultimately claim the Cup. It was a stunning defeat for an American side that many felt should win the game, and the tournament. The Japanese side finding a way, winning their first World Cup title, and lifting a wounded nation that has gone through so much.

What I found most interesting, though, were the reactions on Twitter. Some called the loss a "choke job." Others were proud of the effort. I wonder if those fighting for gender equity in sports, were ok with the notion of fans labeling the loss a "choke." More than that, I wonder if the person that called it a "choke," also says they don't care about soccer, or women's soccer for that matter. You can't say you don't care in one breath, and then call it a "choke," in the next. If you didn't care in the first place, then you have no opinion on the outcome.

Basically, there are more closet soccer fans out there than want to admit it. And that is ok by me. Follow my twitter timeline (@MikeSolarte) and you'll see some of the conversations I have. I'm not diehard, but I appreciate the game that my father taught me as a youngster.

Darren Clarke wins the 140th British Open at Royal St. George's, and I ask, could there have been a better winner? OK, sure Phil Mickelson or Dustin Johnson might have been better for American golf, but there were maybe two better stories than Clarke. One would have been English amateur Tom Lewis winning it (he opened with a 65 to tie for the round 1 lead, b ut faded and finished as low amateur at +9), or Tom Watson taking another Claret Jug. In the end, Clarke takes the win, his first major title, and it took him 20 tries at the British alone.

Why is Clarke so likable? He is you. He is me. He is a guy that likes to smile, have a good time, have a pint of Guinness now and again. His life isn't immune from reality. Five years ago, losing his wife to breast cancer. I couldn't imagine losing my best friend at the age of 37. He battled through it, offered counsel to Phil Mickelson when his wife Amy was diagnosed. He has had his highs, and lows in the game. Highs and lows in life. Yet he ambles on, striking the ball in Sandwich with surgeon-like precision. He earned that walk up 18, grin on his face, and even had enough of a cushion to bogey his final two holes, the last one on the 72nd hole giving him a chance to make a remark at someone on the edge of the green.

Clarke's win leads us back to the harsh fact, that no American golfer has won a major in the last seven. In fact, it's Northern Ireland 3, USA 0 in that span, thanks to Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and now Clarke. A promising sign was Mickelson's performance. Traditionally, Mickelson struggles in the British, but his T-2 finish with Johnson gives the USA some hope. Last chance this year to grab a major comes at the PGA Championship in Atlanta. Surely, some good old American grit can win out in what could be steamy conditions in the A-T-L, right?

Mike Solarte

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