Monday, June 16, 2008
Does Tiger have a playoff color?
It's the only question left about the greatest athlete of our age.
THE TIGER GALLERY. As a resident of the Philadelphia area, I'm pretty much stuck with the lame-brain sports analysis of Howard Eskin and SportsTalk Radio at WIP. I can't tell you how many times I've been masochistic enough to listen to dumb-jock deejays opining about how race car drivers and golfers aren't really athletes. They devote hours and hours of their call-in shows to it, and their experts are usually ex-NFL players who are certain that bloated offensive linemen are athletes while wiry Grand Prix drivers aren't.
I'm pretty much sick of it. I won't name names. Uh, come to think of it, I will. Ex-Eagle Hugh Douglas is willing to stipulate that Tiger Woods is an an athlete, but no other professional golfer is, unless Hugh knows for a fact that he works out. You see, what they do is not athletic. They're not in shape the way the NFL and NBA define it. According to Hugh and the other armchair jocks of WIP radio, golfers are merely privileged gameplayers. Hugh's sidekicks are eager to chime in with the opinion that race car drivers may have a certain knack but aren't athletes, either.
Which beerbellied oaf is tougher? Butkus or Foyt?
Nicklaus had a gut. But so did Munson.
So did a 100 mph flamethrower named Goose Gossage.
I'm calling foul on all of them. Athletes are people who make a living with their bodies, what their bodies can do, and what their bodies can withstand. Their 'shape' is what it has to be for them to excel at what they do. It may not conform to standard ideals of beauty or athleticism. Sumo wrestlers don't look like male models. Neither do most shot-putters, marksmen, or dressage champions. Race-car drivers and golfers are athletes. Perhaps the best of them all. Because they can only win by using their minds as well as they use their bodies.
Race car drivers bet that their reflexes and physical endurance are sufficient to keep them alive and competitive in situations where you or I or talk radio hosts would fail from fatigue or loss of focus or lack of skill. The penalty for failure is death, much more so than in any other sport. No 'athletic' sport has a list of players "killed in action" with talents of the caliber of Wolfgang von Trips, Graham Hill, Mark Donohue, or Dale Earnhardt.
Golfers play the greatest and oldest sport of all -- its players are always alone, challenged to keep striking the smallest target in any sport the longest distance with the greatest accuracy over the longest period of time -- one against hundreds for days rather than hours.
Occasionally we get a glimpse of the fact that it is an athletic event, in the starkest terms. Like today, with Tiger Woods. Golf is a game? Nothing more? Chess players don't wince or double-up when they make a move on the board. They don't have to fight to the finish against fifty opponents and a wall of pain.
Tiger Woods proved the idiots of SportsTalk wrong this week. Playing golf and winning at it does does involve physical commitment and all kinds of suffering. Knees, shoulders, backs, necks, hands -- the same list you'll find in every other sport.
And, Hugh, Tiger wasn't the first to battle agony for a victory in golf. Before him were other greats. Ken Venturi. Ben Hogan. Bobby Jones. Look them up. They were the most poignant of many.
I'm tired of your whole prejudiced act.
Go, Tiger. Win or lose, we're with you.