Watching the TV last Sunday night, you could not fail to be completely captivated by what unfolded during the final round of the US Masters held at Augusta in Georgia, US. We were taken on a roller coaster ride of patriotic expectation, humiliation, sympathy and finally admiration as South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel took the title in true champion style on the 18th green.
The Augusta National provides a sporting arena so breathtakingly beautiful and steeped in tradition that it is unrivalled in sport. It is also challenging and horrendously cruel in equal measure. These factors combine to create a tournament that delivers year after year.
Unfortunately for poor, young Northern Irishman Rory McIlvoy, the golfing gods did not smile in his favour on the final day. He had played over the previous three days, like a true Masters champion. He had followed big, booming drives with crisp, precise and sometimes majestic iron play. Going into the last day, the 21 year old was four shots ahead of the chasing pact. A group that included a resurgent Tiger Woods, a story on its own that blended the themes of redemption, determination and the sporting prowess of a true champion.
During his disastrous last round however the expectation, occasion and pressure took hold of McIlvoy. The skill and control that had so characterised his earlier rounds, completely deserted him to be replaced by mental uncertainty, rashness and almost complete breakdown of his usually solid technique.
To watch was complete car crash telly, sneaking a look through your fingers as the young mans game fell apart. McIlvoy ended up carding an 8 over par round of 80. He finished in an utterly depressing 15th place.
This is not the first time in sport we have witnessed somebody in such a perfect position to grab glorious victory and then to have the expectation and psychology bring them down. It is not even the first time we have witnessed it at The US Masters. The deterioration of the Great White Shark, Greg Norman in 1996 was if not more painful to watch. He choked, throwing away a 6 shot lead to Britain’s Nick Faldo.
It has got us at PrettyGreen thinking about the pressure and expectation in sport and what this can do to an athlete usually of strong and sound mental character. What will happen to Team GB at the London 2012 Games as their years of training reach a zenith and the nations expectation peaks. Who will crumble and who will travail? It is what great sport is all about.