Today, in the first round of the 2018 Masters, the defending champion, Sergio Garcia, actually made a 13 on the par-5 15th hole. It was stunning. And for a whole lotta golfers and golf fans, it was an instant reminder of the fictional plot in the movie Tin Cup.
I’ve watched Tin Cup many, many times. If you’re a pure golfer, you love it. Not that it’s a truly great flick; cable ratings usually won’t peg it any higher than 2 and 1/2 stars. But it’s one of those Ron Shelton-directed movies that zones in on the camaraderie between the fellas — and relationships between men and women — and then tries to go a little deeper.
Long story short, in Tin Cup, Kevin Costner’s character Roy McAavoy is a down-on-his-luck driving range pro who never plays smart golf when he needs it. He always has to “go for it” and try to set some meaningless record. When he finally qualifies for the U.S. Open and actually has a chance to win down the stretch, he can’t help but go for it again — even though he doesn’t need to. Roy dunks five balls into the water on the par-5 18th before the climax: with the last ball in his bag, he sinks a shot from 250 yards to make a “crowd pleasing” 13. He grabs the ball out of the hole, tosses it into the water, and three spectators go diving in to recover the souvenir. It’s fairly ridiculous. It’s also fun.
But what always bothered me about the final sequence was the fact that at least one of the shots Tin Cup hits on that last hole actually lands in a pin-high area of the green before it rolls back off the front into the drink. It would be one thing if he had juiced an iron and backspun it off the putting surface. But he’s crushing a fairway wood, all carry, and the ball still doesn’t hold the green. Some would say I’m looking too hard at the details of a golf comedy. Some would say I’m right.
Now back to today. Just for a moment, as Sergio was dumping five shots of his own into the water at Augusta National, he was basically playing the role of Roy McAvoy. Life imitating art! How could this happen? The Masters isn’t fiction. It’s one of the greatest gems in all of sports — and it’s real life. The best players in the world. They don’t make 13 on a par-5! Yet anything is possible.
The irony is that Sergio already proved that principle at last year’s Masters in a charge that was almost as dramatic as Tin Cup’s — only with a truly triumphant finish. At the age of 37, the Spaniard who used to be known as “El Nino” made an exhilarating run to finally win his first Major Championship. He had previously made 71 consecutive starts in Major tournaments without a victory. Serge’s surge in 2017 started on that same 15th hole, where a fantastic second shot set up an eagle-3. It was a turning point that led to the playoff where he bested Justin Rose and finally took home the historic green jacket.
For years, people across the golf world had criticized Garcia for his failure to win a PGA Major. A whole lot of other fans, like me, consistently wondered aloud whether he might still have a shot at breaking his string of heartbreaks. Even his own father Victor, a club pro who’d coached his son since he could first grip a club, didn’t know if it would ever happen. It happened.
And so did today’s 13. One more than Tin Cup, but to be fair, holing out from 250 is a bit rare.
The lesson is clearer than the reflection beaming back at players from the sun-splashed pond on 15: Never lose sight of the fact that anything is possible. At both the low points and the high. And all in between. Take heart, no matter what the challenge. We all want to dream big. We all falter on our way. We all do our best to pop back up. And sometimes, once in a while, when a ton of hard work intersects with opportunity and alignment of the stars, that highest point is right there within our grasp. The disappointing dips along the path only make the pinnacle that much more satisfying to stand atop of. And it’s the doing — with as much dignity as possible — that counts even more.
Still, try to hit it way past the pin on 15.