By Jeff Gibson
I woke up late Monday, amazed that Rickie Fowler was keeping pace with Tiger Woods during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. I’d called out Fowler a week earlier for the flat-billed Puma costumes he dons, instead of keeping his head inside the game I know he can dominate.
Well, here was the 24-year old, still down two strokes and tied for second behind Woods, teeing off on the 16th, a perfect drive down the center of the fairway, making my Monday off a little intriguing from the get go. Then Tiger Woods found the right bunker.
Now, I don’t normally root for Woods, just good golf. But I was still surprised when I didn’t grimace at Tiger’s errant shot. I paused. Was I rooting for Fowler to prove my opinion wrong, that he could step up his game without ditching the neon wardrobe? Was I delusional, hoping my insignificant message somehow made it through the ether to Fowler’s brain, shaking him, telling him: “You can’t be consistent if every time you look at the ball your pants are there you screaming at you!”.
Fowler didn’t get my message. He had on neon-orange pants and a flat-billed black hat, Puma insignia as always. But here I was despite this, actually wanting him to beat Tiger. Call it rooting for the underdog. Although it was more like Temecula’d-out David versus once-troubled adulterer/now guilt-free Goliath. Or like rooting for Florida Gulf Coast this past weekend, even though they’d be knocking off Georgetown, ruining my bracket. Thing was, it ruined everyone’s bracket. Yet we all still rooted for the Eagles anyway.
But on Monday, at Bay Hill’s 16th, there weren’t any winged birds for Fowler to find. His iron attempt from the middle of the fairway fell short of the green and rolled back into the water hazard. And this right after I thought I saw Tiger look over from inside the trap and seem to wish he was the one in the middle of the fairway, rocking neon pants and poking-out Bieber hair, sans Puma hat (no offense Nike). Does Tiger think in parentheses?
Anyway, Tiger nailed the green on his next shot — out of the bunker, and over the water trap Fowler couldn’t even avoid from a perfect lie. Did Fowler ever have a chance? A slim one, I thought, until he lost another ball to the water on the following 80-yard chip shot. He finished with an eight, +4 on the par four, knocking him back into a tie for 3rd. Tiger parred, en route to another victory this year and a reclamation of the No.1 throne atop the golf world.
Watching Tiger cruise through the last insignificant holes made me wonder: Why is it that we fans root for the underdog? Are we holding out hope that we will triumph over a similar, all-odds-against-us situation in the future? Do we feel sorry for the lesser opponent? Jealous of the player(s) that the pundits and public dub superior? Do we just want to stir up the pot and be entertained?
I’m not sure of any of those. I find myself rooting for the Miami Heat (not an underdog) in their attempt at 34 wins in a row. But maybe, once again, that’s me rooting against the Lakers (see: 1970s Goliath, plus short-shorts). I also find myself feeling happy for Tiger Woods and his number-one world ranking (It could be I just don’t think Rory McIlroy deserves to be there). Woods has done some stupid stuff, but so have I. And I didn’t have a million plus people peeling back those scabs every minute of my life. Nor did I have to deal with the ramifications of coming off of steroids (just an unfounded hunch), nor the injuries that pop up once you’re off them. But there it is again, Tiger still isn’t the Goliath he used to be. He went all David on us (who knew a raised golf club could take him off his game for that long?). And there it is: I’m back to rooting for David.
It’s as if I try to find the facets of every player or team’s game that make them underdogs so I can justify rooting for them. Maybe it’s how I was raised. Or where I was raised. Growing up watching the crappy 1990s SF Giants, Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s, the Golden State Warriors, the Oakland Raiders (good riddance Tuck Rule), Cal at virtually anything except water polo, rugby, and research.
Maybe I’ve been programmed to spot the inferior, unfortunate, misunderstood, and/or ignored aspects of the game and enjoy seeing dedication to the underrated facets of any game prevail.
Like hearing my high school’s boys basketball team just made an incredible run to the state championship, ultimately losing in the final game to a taller Redondo Union squad. See, I remember my high school days, where my buddies had to stare up at the rafters inside their own gym and see a handful of cross country state titles smacking them in the face every practice, these buddies winning one game all season, albeit against a local team that only lost once all season, to us of all schools. How more Cinderella can you get?
I said the same thing out loud driving home the other day, turning on the radio and hearing the voice of my Korean-born buddy Arthur Ballesteros on 95.7 The Game’s Lucky Break contest, going from unknown underground rapper and stand up comedian to an on-point on-air bay area sports radio commentator right before my ears.
In case you didn’t know, my area bleeds this anti-Goliath mentality. And maybe it’s bigger than the East Bay, or the San Francisco Bay Area, or California, or the West Coast. And while the East Coast bias filtering through every major American news outlet inspires most of us, I think it also bonds us.
But what do I know about bonding? I didn’t read 50 Shades of Grey. I go with local writers instead, like author Joshua Mohr. Although if I called him a Cinderella he might try to get me in the ring and go a round with him.
Back in November, I remember telling Mohr over coffee in the Mission District that the SF Giants were going to sweep the Tigers to win it all. I figured Verlander couldn’t keep getting strikes called a foot off the plate. But really what I was hoping for was a quicker end to the whole thing. The SF Giants were David by default, but by the time they won their second championship in two years, the bandwagoners busting up MUNI buses threw David out the emergency window, if there was still any doubt. Hate to say I called it. But I did. Not the outcome of the World Series. The aftermath.
San Francisco city officials and public wondered why citizens would flock to the streets and vandalize property to celebrate a victory. But they weren’t celebrating (in no way am I condoning this selfish, juvenile behavior). The Giants were no longer the underdogs. Because once you win, you’re not the underdog anymore. You’ve become Goliath.
And what is there to do when David becomes Goliath?
Find another Goliath to fight. Whether or not one even exists.
So, who’s your Goliath?