I'm a big-time golf fan. Meaning, I only watch the final round of big-time major tournaments like the Master's, British Open, and United States Open.
And even then I'll record the last eighteen holes so I can fast forward my way through the hours and hours of slow-moving golf (same way I watch soccer). That's what I did yesterday also. But thanks to the amazing Rory McIlroy, I was able to watch the final round in record time.
Plus, be wonderfully inspired by the sight of a 22-year old from Northern Ireland blowing away his fellow U.S. Open golfers in record-breaking fashion.
McIlroy was so many strokes ahead at the beginning of the round, I decided to only watch his shots. So I kept clicking the 30-second advance on my DirecTV DVR until I saw McIlroy standing over his ball. Then I'd watch him take another step on the almost flawless journey to his first major championship win.
What mesmerized me the most was McIlroy's demeanor. His 2011 U.S. Open peformance was an archetypal demonstration of what "flow" is all about.
Golf is a precision game where, at the professional level, players are so skilled and so well matched that often just one bad shot is the difference between winning and losing. A putt that misses the hole by a quarter inch can decide who the champion is.
A few months ago McIlroy famously blew a four stroke lead at the start of the final round of the Master's tournament. He shot an 80, the worst round ever for a pro golfer leading after 54 holes.
Obviously yesterday was a different McIlroy. The announcers said that he was playing like a machine. Well, I can understand why they used those words, but I saw McIlroy as being decidedly non-mechanical.
He was marvelously human. He flowed with the moment, with his emotions, with the crowd of photographers capturing every shot, with the pressure of knowing that even his large lead could evaporate after a double bogey or two.
Machines react predictably. They are programmed to do this in response to that.
I didn't get that sort of feeling from watching McIlroy play his final round. I saw a young guy (he looks like a high schooler to me) responding to ever-changing circumstances with remarkable aplomb, focus, and flexibility. McIlroy wasn't unduly bothered by his few mistakes, or thrown off balance with excessive glee after his many great shots.
Those eighteen holes were a great Father's Day gift. Not just to McIlroy's own father, but to all of us father-types watching him flow so well through the final round of the U.S. Open.
Some people -- I'm thinking of my wife -- find watching sports horribly boring. All they see are guys and gals doing something inherently meaningless, like trying to get a little white ball into a small cup several hundred yards away.
For me, though, sports can open up a window onto a view of human nature that is difficult to discern in any other way.
Yesterday Rory McIlroy showed the world what is possible when someone does what they're capable of doing without being limited by the mental bumps, glitches, flow restrictors, and other crap that causes our psyche to screw up some activity.
Saturday I got back to staining a couple of wood rocking chairs that I'm going to add to the decor of a recently-built tree house.
I was having a pretty good time, brushing the first coat onto the considerable number of pieces that comprised the chair. I was flowing along slowly but steadily until a voice inside my head started talking.
"Man, this is taking longer than expected... there's other things I'd rather be doing right now... once I do the front, I'll have to turn the chair over and do the underside... it's going to take at least two coats, and maybe three... I've got quite a bit more to do."
I felt myself mentally cramping up. Suddenly I just wanted to be done with the staining. I started to get sloppy, putting too much stain here while missing spots there. Then I took a deep breath, relaxed, and got myself back into the present moment.
Just do one piece of wood at a time. Enjoy the process. Don't look ahead to a final outcome. Realize that enjoyment of the chair starts now, not later. There's no such thing as "later," just other "nows."
What I did wasn't all that different from how Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open yesterday. He modeled how to perform an activity excellently via one shot, or one brushstroke, or one whatever.
After that, do another one. And then the next. Respond to what is right in front of you, not some unduly imagined version of it. Enjoy this moment. Relax; flow with what's happening, not pushing the river yet also not letting it passively wash over you.
You're a champion, Rory McIlroy. Not just of the 2011 U.S. Open -- of how to live life, judging by how you performed in this golf tournament.