A champion’s true grit

I have several friends and former NBA teammates who have gone through hip replacement surgery. Most of them have told me that you hold off on the surgery but when the pain gets very intense, you know that it is time to get it done.

Knowing this, I am all the more awed by Floyd Landis’ winning performance in the Tour de France. I mean, the guy is having surgery in a matter of months!

First of all, let me admit that I had no intention of even watching the Tour this year. No Lance Armstrong, no interest. But anytime an American can put himself in position to capture a world event, I start taking notice. I was truly amazed when I heard that Landis was leading the race because most experts had ruled him out due to his hip problem. Then when he faltered on the grueling mountain course of Stage 16, he was written off as a contender.

As Armstrong said, never doubt a champion’s resolve. Remarkably, Landis found a way to win Stage 17 by a stunning margin to again put himself in contention. Now I had to watch the final time trial, where he was fast enough to secure the victory. Unbelievable. First, a cancer survivor dominates the race for seven years and now a veritable invalid, ready for major hip replacement surgery, stands on the podium in the yellow jersey.

Tiger Woods also showed the resolve of a champion by capturing the British Open. After missing the cut at the U.S. Open, Tiger roared back to win his first tournament since the death of his father. I loved watching his savvy course management. He only used his driver once and put to rest the notion that he can only win on courses he overpowers.

I also feel compelled to acknowledge the marvelous performance by Chris DiMarco, who finished just two shots behind Tiger. Playing only a few weeks after the death of his mother, Chris was the lone player to put any heat on Woods during the final nine holes. Despite a valiant effort, he was beaten by a player with more experience in majors and more overall talent.

I thought I had seen the most focused athlete ever while watching Michael Jordan, but Tiger surpasses M.J. in my book. The game of golf is so mental to begin with and Tiger’s ability to keep his head in the game when victory is on the line truly astonishes me. As much as I admire what Jack Nicklaus has accomplished, Tiger should surpass Jack’s 18 major titles before too long. I hope I’m around to see it.

Former Warriors star and Hall of Famer Rick Barry hosts the noon-3 p.m. talk show on KNBR (680 AM). E-mail him at rbarry@examiner.com.

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