It’s the stuff that mathematical analysis can’t account for in golf. That combination of time and timing, intangibles like momentum and the inability of the human brain to switch off.
The final stretch of holes at the biggest tournaments are often worth watching not so much for the shots played but what those shots tell us about what the players are thinking/feeling/enduring.
And it’s time that makes the difference. No tournament review or highlight reel can recreate the tension that time – and it’s step sibling timing – create.
Nick Faldo standing in the 13th fairway on Sunday at Augusta in 1996 contemplating whether to hit 2-iron or 5-wood to the green was equal parts excruciating and delicious because of the time it took.
Tiger’s famous ‘in your life’ chip in at the 16th at Augusta nine years later was an exquisite example of timing rather than time. Had it happened Thursday, would it be as memorable?
Watching the final round unfold at Olympic Club, one was reminded how important time and timing are to create excitement in the game.
"Had the double come on Thursday or Friday or even Saturday it would have been different. Yes, its impact on the scorecard would have been the same but in the minds of all the contenders far less so." - Rod Morri.
After an almost perfect start to a US Open final round, Lexi Thompson had established a five-shot lead by the turn and there looked a real danger the back nine could become merely a coronation.
But golf doesn’t work like that and time – or more precisely, timing – had other ideas. A horrible pitch shot on the 11th for the American led to an ugly double bogey and ushered in two hours of the most compelling golf we’ve seen all year.
Thompson not only lost two shots but a big slab of confidence at that 11th and with Shanshan Feng, Meghan Khang, Yuka Saso and Nasa Hataoka all applying pressure, the game was on.
Had the double come on Thursday or Friday or even Saturday it would have been different.
Yes, its impact on the scorecard would have been the same but in the minds of all the contenders far less so.
Because Thursday and Friday and Saturday are really just the entrée in tournament golf. It is Sunday when the main meal is served.
Trophies and cheques are handed out on Sunday. The clock ticks a little faster on Sunday. The holes – and time itself – start to run out on Sunday.
Early in the week there is plenty of time to recover from mistakes but not on Sunday. It’s pressure on steroids and it is fascinating to watch.
The record books will show that Yuka Saso ultimately made a little piece of history by winning this 76th US Women’s Open in a playoff over Nasa Hataoka.
That in and of itself is a wonderful story which you will hear much more about.
The record books will also show Lexi Thompson finished third behind Saso and Hataoka after a back nine 41, a finish that will be heavily scrutinised for a long time to come.
But neither of those entries in the record books tells the full story of what unfolded at Olympic on this Sunday or why the golf world was glued to it.
And of course, by the time the 77th US Women’s Open rolls around next year even those of us who were completely absorbed today will have forgotten much of what happened because that’s another thing time does. The more of it that passes, the more of the details we forget.
In the moment, though, it’s what makes the whole thing work.