Sometimes sports can give us a moment so beautiful, so perfect, it makes you want to cry.
Maybe for you, it’s Michael Jordan holding a pose as he buries a jumper to beat the Jazz in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. For someone else, it might be Santionio Holmes dragging his toes just inside the paint, his arms outstretched as he snags a pass to win the Super Bowl. A header just inside the post from Ronaldo; a running forehand from Roger Federer; a no-look pass from Patrick Mahomes: If you believe that ballet is art, that the melding of sound and movement is an essential form of expression, then can’t sports be part of the same?
I say all this to call your attention to what might be my favorite golf clip since the invention of digital media: Keith Mitchell wiping a drive right in Round 2 of The Players Championship, just as the horn sounds to announce that play for the day has been suspended.
Go watch it now, if you haven’t seen it yet, before we continue. Casey Bannon of The Golfer’s Journal spotted it late Friday on PGA Tour Live, as bad weather was bearing down on the field. It is a Rembrandt painting of golf frustration and auditory comedy.
If you don’t like when golfers behave like spoiled children, then this clip and this piece I am writing, may not be for you. But if you’ve ever spent an afternoon fighting the frustration of a big right miss, if you’ve ever been battered by the sun on a Florida golf course, nightmarish water lurking on every hole, then Keith Mitchell might be a kindred spirit in this clip.
It’s possible that Mitchell could hear the horn as the top of his backswing, that he was briefly enraged by the random bad luck that befell his round. But I’m not sure if it matters either way. As soon as the ball left his clubface (at 179 mph!) he knew it was irrevocably fucked, and having lived through moments like that on golf courses for half my life, I understand the impulse Mitchell had, to tomahawk his driver into the turf with a violent thump that echoes throughout time and space.
Would I feel differently about this clip if it was Sergio or Tiger or Jon Rahm trying to murder a tee box? It’s possible. If that makes me a hypocrite, then hypocrite thy name is Kevin. Part of what makes it beautiful is that it’s Keith Mitchell, a mild-mannered, charming Southerner. Golf makes gentle boys into monstrous men for the briefest of seconds before the mixture of embarrassment and shame sets in.
One crazed swing of the driver, however, is not enough to elevate a clip like this to the level of art. What happens next is where it transcends to a higher plane. Caddie John Limanti backpedals through the frame, like a combination of Rudolf Nureyev and Ed Reed, trying to track the ball as it screams across the sky.
Just as the horn ceases its dying wail, we see the splash up ahead — thanks to some brilliant camera work — that Mitchell cannot.
“Did it cover?” Mitchell asks, his head down as he chews on his despair.
“It did not,” Limanti says.
“It went in the water?” Mitchell asks again, almost like a prayer, as if the ball’s fate might still be a matter of perspective.
“Yes,” Limanti says.
The words hang in the air like this is a scene from The Shawshank Redemption. Hope can be a dangerous thing.
As the clip closes, we are left watching Mitchell as he contemplates the melancholy of it all, and perhaps also what it would be like to helicopter fling his driver into the woods. But in the end, he has no choice but to drag himself toward the penalty area, perhaps asking the question so many of us have asked infinite times on a golf course:
Why did I fall in love with such a stupid, tortuous, beautiful game?