The Best at What They Do

 

I didn’t have a ticket for Rod Laver Arena so only caught a glimpse before security chased me out.  Just a few moments, but they were enough.  I saw McEnroe play and I’ve never forgotten it.

McEnroe glided to his left.  He was in position, two metres behind the baseline, in plenty of time.  He swatted an effortless, thousand times a day, waist high forehand.  It seemed the racquet was part of his left arm; an extension of his body.  Of him.  He returned to the centre of the court, ready to go again. 

I first saw Tiger Woods as an amateur, drive off the second at St. Andrews, in ’95.  He looked like a young boy and dropped his driver in disgust.  Settle down mate, I thought.  Two years later, a mate and I conned our way into Augusta.  We missed him on the Thursday, but later heard he had gone out in 40 and returned in 30.  The Golden Bear said the rest of them may as well go home.  Tiger won his first green jacket by a heap.

In 2009, just before the fall, he was out for the Australian Masters.  I stood two metres away as he played a bunker shot on a par three.  With an uneven surface and slopping lie to consider, he was balanced and relaxed, as if sitting on a recliner.  He rolled it inside a metre.  The gallery, hanging from trees and camera towers, exploded. Tiger’s game face didn’t move.  In his red hunting shirt, he looked impregnable.

The singer introduced himself playfully as The complicated Art Garfunkel, imitating how Melbourne’s media had described him.  He gathered himself, tilted back his flip top head and out came Scarborough Fair.  Quietly.  Gently.  Beautifully.  At song’s end, the Hamer Hall audience wasn’t sure if applause was appropriate.  We didn’t want to shatter the intimate atmosphere suddenly created.  Mid-set, a low bass chord introduced Bridge Over Troubled Water.  We wriggled and buzzed with anticipation, settled back, and allowed the words and music to wash over us.  I closed my eyes.

Same location, some years later, Brian Wilson performed the Pet Sounds album.  Or his band did.  The audience went along with it.  Who cares, he was there.  He was alive.  Brian sat front right like a friendly old uncle, behind a keyboard.  He wore white pants and Hawaiian shirt that stretched across his big stomach.  He spoke between songs, occasionally losing his train of thought, recounting happy times, regret, tragedy.  I was with a colleague.  She wasn’t much of a music fan and yawned through the encore.  She wanted to beat the traffic.   Are you kidding?  Do you have any idea who this is?  This won’t happen again.

On the way out, I bought the T-shirt.  It’s faded and has holes in the armpits now, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it.

Early in ’93, North Melbourne were emerging from years of slumber.  Wayne Carey was our young captain and the club knew in him they had something special.  On his back, he would carry the club and us, the fans.  We played Hawthorn on a Friday night at the ‘G in a big test.  Carey strutted and puffed his chest and demanded the ball.  It was simple: kick to the paddock, to Carey. He clunked twenty plus contested marks and kicked a bag.  We won by over 100 points.  We had arrived.  We settled in for the ride.  Long live the King.

Next season, in the Preliminary Final against Geelong, Carey showed how great football can be.  People new to footy should be shown a tape of that match.  That’s how you play our game!  All day he led former teammate, Bluey McGrath, to the play, marking everything and kicking goals from everywhere.  He was dragging North to the grand final and I held my breath and couldn’t quite believe it.  Then he tired.  Ablett kicked the winner after the siren.  Mick Martin sunk to his knees as if in prayer.  I put my head in my hands, but didn’t mind that much.  Our time would come.  And I had seen the best. 

I was privileged.

Comments

  1. pamela sherpa says:

    Seeing the best are certainly moments that stay with you forever Andrew. I cannot tell you what a buzz it was yesterday when I saw Tendulkar and Dhoni just practising .

    Carey at his best is forever etched in my mind.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    A Starkie,

    And to think that Bloodnut actually played OK on the rampant no. 18.

  3. Great stuff Andrew. I was listening to the Beach Boys last week. Brian Wilson built a sandpit in his living room to get inspiration. Tortured genius that remains underrated. While away I also had the privilege of watching Dave Warner’s innings in the Big Bash. He is the cleanest hitter since Adam Gilchrist and has all the shots to adapt to different forms of the game. Some purists may fume, but this boy can play.

  4. Another great article Andrew. Why haven’t one of the ‘big dailys’ picked you up yet?

    I have been lucky enough to witness some great sporting moments over the years viz:

    . John Newcombe beating Jimmy Connnors to win The Aussie Open – 1974?
    . Kim Hughes century against the West Indies at the MCG
    . St Kilda beating Collingwood in the 1966 GF – sitting in the front row directly above the clock in the old
    Southern Stand.
    . the 1977 Centenary Test at the MCG – particularly Hookesy belting those consecutive fours off Griegy.
    . seeing Tom Watson (twice) and Nick Faldo win their Open Championships.
    . waching McEnroe, Cawley (Goolagong) win matches at Wimbledon during the 80s’.
    . Viv Richards – double century a the MCG (forget what year) also at Old Trafford when on the first day
    the WI dismissed England for approx 160 aand WI batted for about an hour and finished the day at 2
    for 50 odd with Viv being 46 n.o at stumps hitting 10 fours off Willis. Some say their was a bit of anger
    between these two blokes at the time – not sure why.

    There are many more stories Andrew but I must mention the best of all – Leo Barry’s mark on the siren to enable the Swans to win their first premiership since 1933 – a magnificent moment for all us Swannie (bloods) supporters. However as my wife reminded me within seconds of Leo taking that mark – ” he had to take the mark because he was the bloke who kicked the ball to Big Cox in the first place.”

    Merry Christmas mate and keep up the great work.

    H.

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