Chase Reynolds

Chase Reynolds leaps over a Montana State defender in his final game as a Montana Griz in 2010. Any athlete who has put his heart on the line has a moment he'd love to take back. For Reynolds, it was a fumble on that afternoon inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

MICHAEL GALLACHER, Missoulian

Watching Ernie Els endure the worst start in Masters history Thursday made me feel just a little better about my duffer golf game.

So what if I still use persimmon woods and x-out golf balls? What's it to you my driver is held together with electrical tape and my putter was pulled from a bargain bin at Goodwill?

Hey, at least I didn't 6-putt for a score of 9 on the first hole at Augusta National, looking like a half-sauced hacker who couldn't hit a 3-footer if you spotted him 2 feet. Not that I'll ever get the chance.

The worst part of The Big Easy's hardest moment is he'll probably never live it down. This proud man who made it to No. 1 in the world with four major championships is now known as the guy who putted like he was playing in a scramble where the best part was the steak dinner afterwards.

Give credit to Ernie for maintaining his sense of humor.

"I'm not sure where I'm going from here," he told the BBC. "If you have snakes in your brain it's difficult. Maybe I need a brain transplant."

The incident got me thinking about my all-time cringe-worthy moments while watching/covering otherwise capable athletes. My list even includes a few Montana Grizzly hiccups. 

No. 1 for me will always be Bill Buckner's ground ball between his legs while manning first base for the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Mainly because Billy Buck was one of my all-time favorite Cubs before donning high tops for the twilight of his career in Boston.

Then there was Jackie Smith's doink-off-the-shoulder-pads dropped pass in the end zone as a Cowboy in Super Bowl XIII against the Steelers. My guess is ole No. 81, a Hall of Famer who broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals, doesn't take time to tune in when the NFL Network replays the famous footage where he's dubbed the "The Sickest Man in America."

Not that there's anything wrong with being labeled The Sickest Man in America if it gets you a little sympathy and chicken soup from your wife. You just don't want the title when it comes from a crest-fallen radio guy from Dallas.

Nine years of covering the Grizzlies have given me a couple memorable cringes. Interestingly, the victims are three of the most impressive competitors I've ever covered in Maroon & Silver.

Anyone else remember Chase Reynolds fumbling on the 3-yard line as he was running for what appeared to be a go-ahead TD in Montana's black-and-orange nightmare against the Cats in 2010? How about Dan Carpenter's missed field goal to foil the Grizzlies' 2007 playoff run in a stunning loss to Wofford?

Those guys will forever be remembered as Montana stars that made it in the NFL. But their final games inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium no doubt gnaw at them a little bit.

Moments like that aren't limited to males. To this day I feel bad for former Montana women's tennis player Laurence Pelchat, a fierce competitor who had a match point that would have given coach Steve Ascher's program its first NCAA berth in 2014. Instead fate was on Sacramento State's side in that Big Sky Tournament final and the whole thing still feels a little like coming within 10 feet of the top of Mount Everest.

Truth is, every serious athlete has suffered an Ernie Els moment in some shape or form. The cruel part is that most competitors remember the nightmare much more vividly than all the triumphs.

Just last week I was interviewing Missoula Big Sky softball coach Dennis Staves and he brought up the moment two years ago when his team lost a state championship as a result of a dropped third strike that spiraled into the winning run. Footage of the incident was shown more than once on ESPN and as of this weekend has been seen close to 54,000 times on Youtube.

I didn't tell Dennis then but I'm telling him now: Big Sky and Missoula are lucky to have you in town, Sir. Remember that and forget about May 30, 2014.

Alas, there's no escaping the pain for those who dare to expose their heart in an athletic endeavor. But a better character builder for life, I cannot imagine.

Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@missoulian.com

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