Even as the butt of jokes, Tom Brady can walk away smiling

  • NFL quarterback Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after holing out from the fairway on the seventh during The Match: Champions For Charity at Medalist Golf Club on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Hobe Sound, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match/TNS)

So this is what humiliation looks like on Tom Brady.

I’ve got to say, like everything else with this guy, he wears it well.

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For about 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon, Brady was the most mocked man in America. Maybe the world. Teamed with Phil Mickelson in a made-for-TV charity golf match against Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning, the new Bucs quarterback looked like every wannabe you’ve ever known.

He hit balls in the woods, in the water, in the hazards. He took good-natured abuse from his opponents, broadcasters and seemingly everyone with a Twitter account.

It was simultaneously funny and dumbfounding for viewers, and yet had to be excruciating for an athlete who has spent two decades sitting atop the sports world.

Then, just as the moment was teetering between amusing and embarrassing, Brady delivered the shot of the day.

And just like that, you saw his greatness. Not as a golfer, but as a competitor.

He could have played it for laughs. He could have made excuses. He could have tried turning the attention elsewhere. Instead, he reminded everyone of the pride that has taken him beyond the accomplishments of any football player in NFL history.

Oh, he and Mickelson still lost their match. But that was expected. Oddsmakers had the Woods/Manning team as a nearly 2-to-1 favorite.

But the Brady shot turned the event from a joke into a competition. And while the first six holes at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound in southeast Florida were a runaway, the match eventually came down to the final hole, with Woods/Manning winning by plus-1.

Meanwhile, $20 million was raised for coronavirus causes.

Here is a brief play by play leading up to Brady’s big moment:

3:20 p.m.: Manning draws blood first on the driving range. When asked by reporter Amanda Balionis about potential caddies, Manning takes a poke at Rob Gronkowski’s trade to Tampa Bay.

“Brady … he would have brought Gronkowski because Gronk does whatever Tom asks him to do,” Manning said. “‘Gronk go wrestle; take a year off; come play in Tampa with me later; come caddy for me.”‘ Brady, while standing over a tee, does a slow head turn when he hears Manning.

4:29 p.m.: The Brady nightmare begins on No. 3. The first two holes were pretty wobbly for everyone, but Brady now starts tumbling downhill. He misses his first drive badly and then takes a provisional second attempt.

“That’ll be fairway,” Woods said while the ball was still in the air, “over on (No.) 7.”

4:44 p.m.: Saints coach Sean Payton dogs Brady on Twitter from 800 miles away: “I’m liking this Florida @TomBrady right now.”

4:49 p.m.: TNT analyst Charles Barkley tells Brady he will donate $50,000 if he just puts it on the green on No. 4.

4:51 p.m.: Brady’s shot sails into the trees. “I should have said just keep it on the planet,” Barkley said. Brady responds: “When does football season start?” The Woods/Manning team goes up by 2.

5:04 p.m.: Brooks Koepka announces on Twitter that he will make a $100,000 donation if Brady gets at least one par on the front nine. Ouch.

5:06 p.m.: After Mickelson asks him to mark his ball on No. 5, Woods gets in the day’s best dig: “Do you want to use one of my U.S. Open medals?” The U.S. Open is the only major Mickelson has never won.

5:08 p.m.: Brady finds out about the Koepka tweet. “Tell Brooks I said thank you,” he says, managing to sound not too wounded.

5:29 p.m.: Even St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is taking shots at Brady on Twitter: “We’ve got beautiful municipal golf courses in St. Pete, @TomBrady. They’re open for practice.”

5:34 p.m.: Manning drops a long putt to put his team up by 3.

5:40 p.m.: Brady tries to fight back. With Manning standing over his drive, Brady makes a crack about Tennessee football falling apart. Even his insults are missing by a mile.

5:45 p.m.: Barkley turns up the trash talking by telling Brady he would give him strokes in a head-to-head match. “I want Tom Brady. I ain’t gonna lie,” he says. Brady seems to ignore the jab for a few seconds before getting out of his cart for his fourth shot on the par-5 No. 7. “Chuck, I’ve been focusing on fooball, bro,” Brady says. “Trying to win a Super Bowl.”

5:46 p.m.: Brady’s 130-foot approach shot hits a few feet beyond the hole, then spins backward for birdie. “Chuck, Chuck, shut your mouth, Chuck,” a grinning Brady says.

It was a grand moment. Funny, inspiring and completely unexpected. It was the highlight of a show that meant nothing beyond the charity, yet still managed to be entertaining and gripping for five hours.

This was the return to sports we needed. No offense to NASCAR or the skins game with Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy last week, but this was the stuff of memories.

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It was Manning as the class clown. Woods as the smart aleck genius. Mickelson as everyone’s goofy friend. And it was a tortured Brady with a small glimpse of the pride behind the facemask.

In the end, it was exactly what Tampa Bay needed to see.

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