Commentary

Time to identify a champion

Originally Published: June 17, 2009
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Yeah, I get it. The Black Course at Bethpage State Park is crazy long, so conventional wisdom says only guys who crush it have a chance to contend at this week's U.S. Open.

I won't debate that driving distance is important. Being able to clear a bunker or cut off a dogleg will be greatly beneficial to the big boppers. Then again, solid ballstriking is pretty mandatory, too. And strong chipping. And clutch putting.

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You can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out the biggest determining factor when picking U.S. Open contenders, but in compiling this year's list, I looked at two components of players' games that I deemed to be more relevant than any others. The only problem? These are both intangible qualities, nothing that can be looked up in a record book or researched on a statistics page.

The first is patience. As one player said recently, "I do like the idea of the majors. They do seem to be easier to win in some ways. … They feel like you're in a marathon rather than a sprint. A regular event, it feels like a quick dash. If you don't get off to a good start, you feel you're a little bit behind. Whereas in a major championship, you know it's going to come down to the last nine holes on Sunday. It's all about getting yourself in position."

That player should know, because he's none other than Padraig Harrington, winner of three of the past seven major championships and a fervent preacher of patience.

The second characteristic I'm seeking is guts. That's right. Inner fortitude. Mental toughness. Cojones, if you will, for the Spanish-speaking players in the field.

It goes without saying that players who can avoid spitting up on their logoed shirts and shaking in their soft spikes should fare better than those who break out in a sweat even when the heat is off.

Of course, if there were a stat that could measure patience and guts, the world's No. 1-ranked player would shine over all others. So let me introduce a third intangible as well. It's called playing a hunch. Not very scientific, I know, but how else to explain why the defending champ doesn't top this ranking once again?

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.