Friday, July 13, 2007

On Golf

Galley Friend Dean Barnett has a very sweet and moving ode to Tom Watson, calling him the best player to come along between Tiger and Jack. He means in golf.

I kid! Watson may be something, I wouldn't know. My experience with golf pretty much ended after my second summer working as a caddy at the local country club. (A club, I might add, that was all Judge Smails and no Ty Webb.) But I was struck that the occasion for Dean's paean was Watson nearly winning the U.S. Senior Open, which Dean calls a significant tournament. I'm sure Dean's right, and that it is. Which is one more reason why I hate--and I don't use the word lightly--hate golf.

Golfers have the longest athletic life of any professional athletes. (NB: I will not include race car drivers. Period.) They can play in something near top form for 20 years, easily. Nicklaus is Nicklaus, but he won a major at age 46. This isn't like Nolan Ryan pitching in the Bigs or Jimmy Connors making a long-shot run at the U.S. Open around the ages of 40. This is being closer to 50 and actually being capable of being an individual champion.

So it's a little strange that we would invent an old-timers tour for a bunch of guys who have already gotten to play their sports professionally longer than any other athletes. Particularly when no other serious sport has a has-been league.

Steve Czaban insists that golfers are the most coddled athletes in pro sports. It sure seems like it to me, if for no other reason than this: These guys can compete for forever and even when they eventually "retire," they never have to go away. There's still a league willing to throw money at them and even concoct pretend "majors."

The PGA's senior tour began in 1980, I think, and in a way, it's a perfect symbol of Boomer self-entitlement. Any sport that has room for that kind of nonsense is perilously close to not being much of a sport at all.


Anonymous said...

It's a simple confluence of social class and the free market, not yet another example of Boomer self-entitlement destroying America. (Alas!)

Class: Most pro golfers, particularly those old enough to be playing on the senior circuit, come from or have earned their way into a particular American social class for whom retirement from one's career usually involves playing lots of recreational golf.

Free Market: Fans are willing to pay to watch their favorite players play golf. When other athletes retire, they stop playing their sports, but "retired" golfers are going to keep playing golf for the rest of their lives. Which his fans have already expressed their desire to pay to watch him do, so ... Should the government step in to stop this perfect expression of supply meeting demand just because persons of good taste might find it a bit unseemly to contemplate airing retired baseball players' softball league games on ESPN2?

The mystery is not the senior tour. It's the very fact of televised golf entirely. As far as I can tell, everyone who is willing to watch golf on TV already owns golf clubs. Now, I know that no matter how much time I spend at the batting cage, I'm never going to be able to hit baseballs like Albert Pujols. But as crappy a duffer as I am, I'm perfectly capable of birdying the occasional hole. Anyone who enjoys golf enough to watch it ought to be out playing it instead, and anyone who doesn't like the sport enough to go play it shouldn't be watching it on TV.

Joe said...

I agree with you on the bit about golfers being coddled (forcing the crowd to be silent while the player strikes a non-moving object is ridiculous), but I don't think you're being nearly hard enough on baseball players.

It's been my opinion for quite some time that hitting and pitching are in the same category of skill as plate-spinning and sword-swallowing; freakish and impressive looking, but not necessarily "athletic". The fact that high-level practitioners of these black arts all too often look like Big Papi, Prince Fielder, David Wells, Curt Schilling (particularly after his surgery last year) - in other words, they are lard-asses (or, to use the phrase which David Letterman to Terry Forster, "fat tubs of goo").

It's also a coincidence that you wrote this on the day (or the day after) the Mets (finally) released 48 year old Julio Franco.

There is clearly a degree of authentic athleticism involved in fielding, but there is plenty of opportunity to hide an uncoordinated goof at a corner outfield position or first base.

Anonymous said...

Joe ... Yeah, but the big-league baseball player looks like an Olympic gymnast compared to the average NFL player. If having the lithe muscularity of a Greek statue is a measure of athleticism, then football is no more a sport than chess. At least in chess it's never an advantage to be built like Refrigerator Perry.