Golf, as we all know, is a game of “What have you done for me lately?” It doesn’t care if you won a major last week, or what your endorsement income is. You can rest on your laurels all you want, but you can’t enter them as this week’s scores. There is a particular limbo, a golfer’s hell, a hall of shame to which every golfer on every tour is vulnerable, and unthinkable as it is, that includes the greatest who have ever, or currently play the game professionally – missing the cut.
Missing the cut after the second round is calculated around the top seventy players, and anyone who stays within ten shots of the leaders. Depending on who shows up this week, that can be quite a trick. Remember that student in school, the one we all called the “curve-wrecker?” The various golf tours all have one or more. It used to be Tiger and probably will be again. Rory and Luke always cause an inner groan. Yani Tseng can exert pure evil on the cut-off point.
We know what missing the cut means, technically, but one must wonder what it means to the brain or heart of an already successful professional. He or she might interpret it as, “You can’t hang with us. Pack up and go home.” It means graduating in the lower fifty percent of your class, and being dismissed for it. You’re embarrassed, and embarrassing.
John Daley, a former major winner, just missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance with a 79-71. He promptly threatened to quit, claiming that he just couldn’t play as he once did, that he shouldn’t take up another player’s spot, and that he could no longer compete. He said the same thing after an 88 at the Buick, but was back soon after. Almost all of us say something like that in life’s defeats. It’s the ultimate sulk, almost irresistible.
For a player like Tiger, who once believed that these tournaments belonged to him, missing the cut would have to result in some sort of brain damage. Of course, he hasn’t done it much, but in recent British Opens, the 2011 PGA and the 2006 U.S. Open, the year his father passed away, even he has been sent home early. Every other great player who’s played very much has experienced this.
A study on how men and women separately experience missing the cut would be interesting. The LPGA is in Hawaii this week for the Lotte Championship, and four days of paradise would certainly be more fun than two. In fact, in professional golf, four days in paradise means being able to afford paradise. There are some famous names, and some rising stars atop the leader board (such as Miyazato, Munoz, Kerr, Pettersen and Creamer), but it’s shocking to look at the other end, where experienced winners and phenoms are biting the proverbial dust – people like Maria Hjorth, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Grace Park and Michelle Wie.
What do you do after missing the cut – sit in the restaurant and mope, rationalize, cry “unfair?” Or, do you pull a disappearing act until next week? What if you can’t afford to make it home? Not everyone on tour has deep pockets.
As we said, golf is a “What have you done for me lately?” game. It can simply abandon any player in the world on a moment’s notice, creating a wide open set of possibilities every week. It can anoint an unexpected player, and vault him or her to the top, although we’ve never seen them there. Picking winners in golf is one of the most difficult predictions in the world of sports. Still, to see some names on that list for missing the cut is just appalling, and neither we nor they, I suspect, get over it until they get off.