BOSTON — My assorted e-connections were overflowing with collective excitement during Sunday’s final round of the British Open. “Stirring and inspirational,” opined one. “Pulling for Tom,” another offered succinctly. And finally, another wrote: “Getting chills watching Tom Watson walk up at Turnberry.”
And then came silence.
As the 59-year-old Watson bid to become the oldest player, by more than a decade, to win a major, the chills turned into a slightly queasy feeling as he hit three successive bad shots — the last a particularly limp putt — to stumble into a tie for the championship. And then came full-blown nausea as Watson proceeded to Van de Velde his way through a four-hole playoff and somehow lose to fellow American Stewart Cink by an unimaginable six strokes.
Watson was no doubt disappointed, maybe even stunned, but his fashion is low-key and imperturbable. Afterwards, he appeared most intent on appearing gracious to the winner. But the disappointment among my friends was palpable and, at times, bordered on the hysterical. Watson’s bid, as the announcers kept repeating, “to turn back the clock” mirrored the Baby Boomers’ most fervent desire. And in the end, his fizzle was painfully metaphorical, the last gasp of a generation that doesn’t want to surrender center stage.
We are a generation destined not to go gentle into that good night. We are remarkably self-absorbed and prefer that not just our generation, but all subsequent generations view the world through our prism. That appears destined to be our rather disappointing legacy. We dominated the landscape.
Baby boomers once imagined we would change the world in far more meaningful ways than just fashion. We would be worthy heirs to The Greatest Generation that, quite frankly, we didn’t recognize as much other than obstructionist. We didn’t acknowledge its “greatness” until Steven Spielberg, Tom Brokaw and a few others schooled us in ways our parents never could.
As for us: decidedly not great. We make a lot of noise, are very sentimental (Woodstock’s 40th, Apollo 11’s 40th, any anniversary from our heyday, Walter Cronkite’s death) and root like hell for guys like Tom Watson.
But an opportunity like Watson’s may never come around again. Our moment, at least at the highest levels of sports, has passed. By the time Watson sputtered out, the sports world hadn’t even left us a consolation prize. Only a few hours before, Lance Armstrong had watched his teammate Alberto Contador leave him behind in the Alps, essentially — barring a disaster — claiming victory in the Tour de France a week out of the final leg into Paris.
Lance, of course, isn’t remotely a baby boomer, neither by birth or disposition. And I bristle every time the TV announcers refer to the 37-year-old, seven-time Tour champion as the “old man.” But he is ours, at least symbolically, because we lay claim to whomever or whatever we want if we can convince ourselves that they or their saga are particularly relevant to boomers. Armstrong, with his history of cancer as well as his seniority, is right in our wheelhouse.
Armstrong and Contador have had an unsettled relationship since Lance came out of retirement to join the Astana team. Contador, in his prime at 26 and the Tour champion in 2007, expected to be the undisputed team leader and was clearly uncomfortable sharing the mantle, even with a legend. Armstrong tends toward the prickly and was none too happy when Contador soloed off ahead of him on a mountain leg early in the first week of the Tour.
But Contador’s Sunday breakaway was clearly ordained by the team, even though it left Armstrong buried in second place by a hefty 1:35 margin. Contador said afterwards that though the teammates rode together for most of Sunday’s stage, had to look upon Armstrong as “just another rider” when he was ready to make his break. He said, “The differences now are pretty big and the team’s bet should be on me, no? He added that Armstrong remained his “idol” and that “it’s an honor him working for me.”
If that made Armstrong the least bit uncomfortable, he did not show it. Armstrong said Contador had demonstrated his clear superiority and said he had no intention of attacking Contador during one of the later stages in the race. “There’s been a lot of drama between Alberto and me,” Lance said, “but at the end of the day we sit as a team.”
So was it a bad weekend for the “old” guys or a terrific one? Two great champions fell just short, but did so with amazing grace. And therein lies a valuable lesson for my fellow boomers. We could always sing it, but haven’t fared very well at demonstrating it.
Columns by Mark Starr: