Sports at their most entertaining positions opposites against each other. Those opposites can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can be moral or stylistic. Underdogs and favorites are built on opposites. One is supposed to win. The other is destined to lose.
This weekend’s BMW Championship was a delicious spectacle of two ends of the spectrum. We had Bashing Bryson and “Patty Ice” going head-to-head for 24 holes. Two guys who had risen to the top of the leaderboard on a tidal wave of birdies acquired in remarkably different ways.
The round started with Bryson hitting driver into a green side bunkers, splashing his sand shot to a few feet and tapping in for birdie. Whereas Cantlay hit 3-wood, like most players in the field, wedged on, and made his putt. The game was afoot.
Bryson has placed himself as the opposite of basically every golfer on the tour. His mindset and mentality and approach to the game stands in contrast to everyone, even the other players that can hit the ball as far as Bryson pump the brakes for the love of strategy and safety.
On the other hand, Cantlay also stands out from his peers. He’s quiet, almost boring on the course. Some might say the majority of golfers are boring, but Cantlay is boring. No smiles, rarely a fist pump. His baby blue pants yesterday seemed like a big risk. Even the exchanges of shots in the playoff didn’t stir Cantlay. His exceptional talent shines through in tough moments, probably because he’s experienced real off the course struggles: a broken back and the tragic death of his best friend.
Watching the two men play golf on the same holes was like putting one kid on Space Mountain and another on the “It’s a Small World” ride. It’s astounding that Cantlay was able to play with Bryson over those 24 holes and manage his game. He said after the round he knows he can’t do anything about Bryson’s shots. There’s no defense in golf. You have to hope the golf course might offer some defense, but this golf course played defense like the 2020 New York Jets - everyone could score. Cantlay could only control his game, nothing else. It’s an easy mindset to speak out. But Cantlay lived it for 5+ hours on Sunday, which requires exceptional discipline. While Bryson has been ridiculed and teased and badgered on the golf course over the last year, he has created a dynamic that the sport really needs. A bit of tension and excitement. The PGA Tour has had a slew of long playoffs this season, but an eight hole playoff at the Travelers Championship between Harris English and Kramer Hickok certainly didn’t move the needle earlier this summer.
This 6-hole showdown did.
There’s plenty to say about how Bryson has been treated over the last 18 months, but golf does need characters like him. Heck, he brought something out of Patrick Cantlay that many likely didn’t think was inside of him. Who knows, maybe in a month we look back on this showdown as a Ryder Cup spark for the Americans. Cantlay showed some serious balls, and even though Bryson putted poorly down the stretch he showed some serious resolve, especially when he made par on the fourth playoff hole after hitting his tee shot in the water. Sports needs the tension of opposites. Right now Bryson is standing in opposition to a lot of people in golf, and he might crack soon. But until then, let’s hope he can continue to pull out the best from his competition and bring more eyeballs to the sport.