The Last [by David R. Sands]
So, for the 47th time I’m watching – or more accurately, trying not to watch – the slow-motion replay on a sports highlight show of this guy going in for a layup, landing awkwardly and destroying every tendon, ligament and patella between his groin and ankle. He lets out a shriek, the faces of his teammates and coaches turn a vivid green, and there’s a satisfying climax to the drama as the poor guy is carted off on a gurney, writhing in pain.
And all the time, I’m thinking, “Man, I love golf.”
A non-golfing friend recently sent me one of those supposedly heart-warming e-mails about the glories of golf, stuff about being outdoors, the way players call penalties on themselves, the fact that pros pay to enter tournaments and make money only as long as they play well.
But watching that injury porn segment on television made me realize that a lot of golf’s qualities are negative ones, that some of the game’s best features are the ones it doesn’t have. As with cockfights and pro football drafts, some people apparently enjoy watching other people get hurt playing sports. I have never been one of those people.
You never see a golfing injury in heavy cable-TV playback rotation, perhaps because all it involves is a wincing guy grabbing his wrist or putting a hand to his lower back, followed by a slow walk or a cart ride back to the clubhouse.
A golf writer once observed that golf is the best sport to cover by far, and not because of the drama, the accessibility of the players, or the prestige of the beat. It’s not golf virtues but it’s lack of vices that matter.
“You only go to nice places, they don’t play in bad weather, and you have to finish by dark,” the writer noted.
Spectator brawls – another television favorite – also never play well in golf. A PGA pro might wag a menacing finger at a spectator with a cell phone, but I’ve yet to see one plunge into the gallery, exchanging blows with the fans. Outside of Phoenix, the concept of the golf hooligan doesn’t even exist.
Golfers themselves don’t stand out physically, the way a group of basketball players or football players do. Jim Furyk may have a funky swing, but it’s hard to imagine a more ordinary-looking athletic superstar. Aside from those Popeye forearms and slightly lacquered complexions, the best golfers look just like regular Joes and Janes, only with better hair and blonder spouses.
Golfers don’t come with owners, aside from the occasional psychotic parent or publicity-hungry swing doctor. Thus there are no George Steinbrenners, Dan Snyders or Mark Cubans cluttering up the game. Because they don’t have long-term contracts, golfers avoid all those tedious off-season bargaining stories and trade rumors.
More additions by subtraction: There’s no artificial turf in golf, no 10 p.m. starting times, and no 20-second time-outs. Stickum, shirt-tugging and spitballs, all the casually accepted forms of cheating in other sports, are unknown in golf. Almost quaintly, jingling your keys is considered the height of golf gamesmanship.
Because Augusta National isn’t going anywhere until the next major tectonic plate shift, the guys who run the Masters can’t threaten to leave Georgia if they don’t get a tax break to plant a new stand of azaleas. That in itself is enough to make you love the game.
Admittedly, it’s a low bar to praise golf for what it isn’t. But as my father often observed, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick – a clip of which is now running on ESPN.