Choking is much different than losing

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By Brad Spencer

Sports Editor

Imagine the agony that comes with defeat. Sure, it's ugly but it's not gut-wrenching. It's not excruciating. It's not exactly knee-buckling, chest-grabbing, lung-deflating torment. A loss is a loss, and time will heal those superficial wounds. But not when it comes to choking like a flogged chicken in the clutch, and that's exactly what the U.S. team did at the Ryder Cup on Sunday.

Although it was backed by a rowdy crowd at Medinah Country Club that rivaled any at a Bears game — a crowd that included ex-U.S. presidents and someone named Michael Jordan — the U.S. team came unglued and melted into those well-manicured, bent-grass fairways. It was a downfall of epic proportions. Broadcaster Jimmy Miller, searching desperately for a lasting tagline said, "You can say this is the colossal collapse in Chicago."

Miller wasn't talking about the White Sox (yes, had to throw that in there). He was talking about a bunch of wealthy Americans whose sport allows them the opportunity to dress in sweater vests and rarely break a sweat. Were we so downtrodden that Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and others, including Tiger Woods, experienced such a nosedive?

No.

Why?

Because football was on. Well, not just that football was also on, but because golf is such a mental sport, choking is almost inevitable. What we perceive as simple tasks for these professionals are, in reality, extremely difficult. We take it for granted, but we don't care because we could have washed the car in the time it took Furyk to finally attempt that putt on the 18th hole, only to miss it. And then Stricker goes and misreads a line so errantly, it's as if he was seeing a second cup on the green.  

So we grunt, belch and pop back over to football, where it's not kicker Garret Hartley's 53-yard field goal miss that burns our hide, but the collapse of the entire Saints team for squandering a fourth-quarter lead against the dreadful Packers at Lambeau Field.

The clutch is the clutch — either you're coming through in it or you're not. And that was the case on Sunday. Washington's Billy Cundiff hit a 41-yard, game-winning field goal against Tampa Bay. Cundiff had previously missed three field goal attempts. Arizona's Jay Feely made a 46-yarder in overtime against Miami. Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes came up short on a 54-yard attempt that would have given his team a win over the Eagles.

But a 50-plus field goal miss doesn't compare to what happened at Medinah Country Club. Losing in the clutch may not be acceptable, but at the very least it's tolerable.

I believe Miller said it best when he told viewers that the U.S. team played so poorly, "they earned the loss." 

Choking in the clutch is an entirely different kind of pain.

Contact: bspencer@oakpark.com

Twitter: @oakparksports

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