Golf was the last refuge for the short, fat athlete

Mike Royko

May 27, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

(Mike Royko is on vacation this week. The following column was selected from among his favorites. It was originally published in June 1983.)

Everybody at the bar was staring at the TV set. Somebody on the screen was lining up a putt. An announcer with a British accent was explaining the great importance of the ball rolling into the hole.

Just then a gravelly voice from the end of the bar said: "Why don't you switch channels? Let's see what else is on."

It was Fat Harry.

"What are you talking about, Harry?" somebody protested. "That's the U.S. Open."

"I know it's the Open," Harry said. "But I'd still rather watch something else. OK?"

A debate broke out, and the bartender stood near the TV waiting for a consensus.

Then someone said: "Wait a minute, Harry. You're a golfer, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Harry rasped. "So what?"

"Well, if you're a golfer, why don't you want to watch the Open? I don't even play the game and I'm watching. But you're always out on a golf course."

"Doesn't matter," said Harry. "Put on a ballgame or something."

"But if you're a golfer, you ought to be interested. I don't get it."

Harry stood up and said: "Look at me."

We all looked at him.

"What do you see? Describe me. Describe my physique."

We looked some more. Then somebody said: "Well, you're kind of chunky."

"Yeah," somebody else said. "Stocky."

Harry grimaced and shook his head. "Don't try to be kind. Be honest. I'm short, right? And I'm fat."

Everybody nodded. "That's right. You're short and fat."

Harry slid back on the stool and said: "OK, now you understand."

We thought about that statement for a while. Then somebody said: "Understand what?"

Harry pointed at the TV screen. "Look at those guys. Are any of them short and fat?"

We looked at the screen, and somebody said: "No. They're not short and fat. They're all lean and in good shape. But so what? They're professional athletes. They're not supposed to be short and fat."

"Oh, yeah?" said Harry. "That just shows how much you don't know. Well, I'll tell you something. There used to be great golfers who were short and fat.

"That's why I took up the game. I've been a short, fat kid. I was a short, fat young man. I think it was my glands. I had short, fat glands.

"I was never any good at sports so I didn't even try. Nobody wanted a short, fat shortstop or a short, fat quarterback.

"Then one day I looked in the sports pages and I saw a picture of a golfer who won a championship. It was Porky Oliver. Imagine that. A professional athlete they called Porky, because he was short and fat.

"So I started following golf and you know what I found out? There were other short, fat pro golfers. And I found out that there were other kinds, too. Skinny guys who looked like they had TB. There was one who was a hillbilly and had only three front teeth. There were guys with tattoos on their arms, and bald heads and little potbellies.

"In other words, the professional golfers didn't look any different than the guys who play it on Sundays for fun.

"That's when I knew I had my sports heroes and my game, so I bought a set of clubs and started playing.

"I'd go watch the tournaments, and I'd see Billy Casper, who was short and fat, and Julius Boros, who was almost fat. And Nicklaus came along, and he looked like a baby whale.

"Then something happened. Maybe TV caused it. Or the youth culture. But the fat golfers either disappeared or they became skinny.

"Now you look at them and they all look the same. They're all lean. They all have the same hairstyle. There's not one short, fat guy out there. Not one guy with missing front teeth. Not one who looks like he's coughing himself to death. They're just a bunch of clones. They make me sick. Give me another bag of potato chips."

Somebody said: "But there are other sports, Harry. Maybe you can find other heroes."

"Where?" Harry said.

"You ever see a short, fat basketball player? Or hockey player? Or football player? No; professional golf was the last of the games that had real people playing it. Porky Oliver. What a guy. He looked like he ate five bags of chips with every beer."

"Harry, what about bowling?" somebody said.

Harry shook his head. "You haven't seen bowling on TV lately. Same as golf except the bowlers look like they're wearing the $10 polyester version of the golfers' $30 shirts. They have hairstyles that are sort of truck-driver chic, with their hair spray on their sideburns. But they're all lean, too. They're just imitation clones of the golf clones."

Harry resumed munching his potato chips. And somebody said: "Harry, maybe you ought to go along with the times."

"What do you mean?"

"Go on a diet."

"What? And lose my identity?"

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