There is a tweet that I think about all the time. To be fair, there are many tweets I think about all the time, but I come back to this one so very often when I think about the sports we cover.
Doug Gottlieb wrote it about the Oklahoma City Thunder eight or nine or 10 years ago, and now I cannot find it. Surely you have quotes or posts or paragraphs that have been lost to the recesses of your mind as well. Anyway, he was talking about the OKC triumvirate of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in their backpack-wearing early days when they felt less like one of the most powerful trios in sports and more like a wondrous accident.
He said – again I'm paraphrasing – enjoy those early years, because while it may get better and it may be more successful or more enjoyable, it will never again be quite this much fun.
I thought about that tweet this weekend as I watched 17-year-old amateur Megha Ganne contend at the U.S. Women's Open at Olympic Club. She played her way into the final group on Sunday alongside Lexi Thompson -- who would go on to dramatically lose the tournament -- and Yuka Saso -- who would go on to win in a playoff. And yet, it was Ganne that I could not stop watching.
The swing, the energy and the smile that could run a country. Ganne was legitimately in the tournament with 18 holes to go. She was unspooled by a late 77, but that could not dampen one of the great weeks she will experience throughout the rest of her career.
"I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life," said Ganne, though I'm not sure she's even capable of understanding the veracity of that statement.
What were you doing the summer you were 17? Probably not contending at the biggest USGA event in the country. It's an age of innocence. One unburdened by the heaviness of life. An age free of the barnacles everyone collects as the years start stacking up.
Whatever you were doing, there was a purity to it. For many of us -- although not all of us -- we did not understand what it meant to make money or feel the tremendous responsibilities ahead. We just wanted to play.
"I wish it wasn't over so quickly," said Ganne on Saturday night. "It's been so much fun. I can't wait to go back out there tomorrow and I'm already counting down the hours until I tee off again."
If you squint hard enough, you can see the summer before your senior year of high school in there somewhere. It's not a place I desire to go back to; to do so knowing what I know about life now would be too much weight to carry. But it's certainly a place in time I hope everyone gets to experience. That Ganne got to apply that experience to her nation's championship may go down as the most fun experience of her entire life.
There is much ahead for her. The U.S. Amateur, a senior year and a team at Stanford that will certainly contend for national championships. Who knows after that. She may win five of these in the future. But even twice that many major championships cannot match the joy of contending in one when you're 17. When you're old enough to know what's happening but not old enough to understand too much.
We have done a bad thing in modern golf. We have elevated making it -- the money and the brands and the trophies and the fame -- over making memories. I loved what Twitter hero, Lou Brown, said about Matthew Wolff's recent trip back to Oklahoma State to watch his team play in the NCAAs: If all these kids in such a rush only knew what they were rushing.
The reality, though, is that nobody chooses experience over money. This is the unfortunate byproduct of living in a society (and mostly a world) that values monetary gain above nearly everything else. So it is sweet when a 17-year-old who does not have to go to a show-and-tell for a watch company on Monday after playing the Open and did not have to sign 76 Olympic flags for her financial services sponsor just gets to play golf. Even more so for her.
There is unadulterated purity there that is rarer than it should be. In golf, the folks hoping your wave turns into one of their own will chew you up and spit you out. You'll be richer, but you'll be more hollow, too. It's called a grind for a reason.
Ganne, for her part, seemed to understand all of this in ways most of us simply would not. She was joyful, but with depth. Not silly. She had presence, and she was present for a week she will never be able to replicate for the next 30 years. You can try to win U.S. Opens for the rest of your life, but you can only experience what she experienced once or maybe twice.
And yet, the actual sport of golf is a through line. Think about Phil Mickelson's win at the PGA Championship at Kiawah a little over two weeks ago. He's 50. You could fit Rory McIlroy's life between Ganne and Mickelson's ages. What stood out that week, though, was his unrelenting pursuit of the desperate thrill he got as a seven-year-old and then a 17-year-old.
He was Ganne once. The low am at both the 1990 and 1991 U.S. Open. Here's what he said in a 1991 interview with Sports Illustrated.
"When I was five years old," said Mickelson, "I played because I wanted to, not because 15 years down the road I'd have a chance to turn pro and make a couple of hundred thousand dollars."
You may not believe Mickelson still feels that way, but I think if you can look past all the coffee and some of the angles he often takes, he still loves golf the way he did when he was Ganne. This is rarer than you would think in professional sports. A lot of basketball players play professionally because they're tall. Baseball players play because they have good arms. But do you love it? After 30 years as a pro, grinding the way he has, I feel confident saying Mickelson loves it the way Ganne clearly does.
And that brings us back to the tweet I think about all the time. There's a great photo of Thompson, playing in her 15th U.S. Open at age 26, staring at Ganne during their round on Sunday. I wonder what she's thinking. I wonder if she would like to go back to when handling the obligations simply meant deciding whether to carry four wedges or three.
I love watching people do things they love. That is not specific to golf but all the better if it results in getting to do the thing I love. But sometimes, after years of doing that thing transactionally, there is a hint of emptiness that creeps in. A bit of, "Yes, I love this, but do I really love this?" that never before existed. Life is difficult for everyone, no matter how privileged you are, no matter how rich you become. That life is hard is the human condition, and nobody can escape its tentacles. Most of the time, this escapes 17-year-olds in the best way possible. They just want to kick down the door to summer with a 68 (or maybe contention at a major championship).
Ganne will not go home asking those questions. She'll go home thinking about the U.S. Amateur and Stanford, and maybe next year's Open at Pine Needles and how it's transactional but in the exact opposite way. Because the very best professionals in this sport trade their time and their souls for a vast bounty of wealth and fame and a wall full of trophies, but my guess is that they would trade so much of that for a single day of the joy-filled week that Ganne just experienced.