Proprietor note: In an attempt to have a REAL vacation, we have been trying not to post here during some time off. We made it one full week, which is pretty impressive by our standards. Alas, with this week off as well we knew it wouldn't last. So occasionally over the next several days we will drop in with some thoughts.
Phil Mickelson's runner-up finish at the U.S. Open on Sunday was as heartbreaking as it was seemingly inevitable. At this event, Phil never gives you the impression that he is going to lock things down -- not even Sunday, when he improbably holed out an eagle from about 80 yards out to take the lead. Even then, there was still the nagging feeling that he could lose it at any time -- either by attempting a shot conceived only of his own hubris or simply by not making the shots a good golfer makes.
As it turns out, it was mostly the latter. Mickelson had his chances. He didn't choke things away with some sort of awful quadruple bogey. He just didn't hit irons in close enough when he had the chance, and he didn't make putts. Justin Rose did. And that's golf.
But it did make us wonder this: Mickelson has now finished second at the U.S. Open a record six times. Is finishing second in the championship of your country -- the equivalent of the World Series or the Super Bowl -- better or worse in an individual sport or a team sport?
That is to say, who has experienced more anguish: Mickelson or a team like the Vikings, which has never won a Super Bowl?
We thought about it a fair amount last night. In each case, on the surface, there would appear to be a moral victory. Out of everyone competing, you were second-best. That's still a high achievement. However, in the battle of moral victories, we say Phil wins. In golf, you can play your absolute best and still lose if someone just happens to be better that day or catches a few lucky breaks. And if you finish second, there are still countless opponents who finished below you on that particular day. If you lose the Super Bowl, there is solace that you made it that far, but on that day alone there is one winner and one loser. And you are the loser.
However, there is this: While the Vikings teams that lost four Super Bowls had many of the same players on them, each were distinctly different teams. The experience of each season and each Super Bowl loss is spread out. While the franchise bears the brunt of four losses, each is experienced in its own way by a different group. In golf, it is the singular person who experiences all of the second-place finishes (six, remember, in Phil's case). Whatever anguish comes as a result is squarely on his shoulders.
Then again, maybe we in the media (and fans in general) make too much of it. Plenty of Vikings players can say they played in four Super Bowls. Mickelson still cashed big checks for each of the six second-place finishes. The reaction, when left to the participants, can vary wildly from the reaction of those watching and rooting from afar.
In Phil's case, though, No. 6 was "heartbreak." In five of the six, he has finished either one or two shots back. Maybe we'll just say he's the Vikings of the U.S. Open and call it a tie. After all, would it really be fair if either had to lose again?