Tiger rules world of golf, not sports

April 18, 2001|By Larry Atkins

PHILADELPHIA -- No doubt about it: Tiger Woods' feat of winning four straight major golf tournaments was a great achievement.

But many commentators have compared the "Tiger Slam" to other great sports feats such as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in one game and Carl Lewis' Olympic triumphs.

Many writers have said that Tiger Woods should be considered among the greatest athletes of all time, along with Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan. Some claim that golf is the most difficult sport to master because athletes from other sports try to play it and fail miserably.

Get a grip. Gimme a break.

Tiger Woods may be well on his way to being the greatest golfer ever. But it's golf. Golf isn't a sport. It's a skill, much like bowling, billiards, darts, auto racing, curling, shuffleboard and pinochle. It's an activity that older people take up when their knees go bad and they no longer can play real sports like basketball, baseball and football.

Sorry, but real sports involve running and jumping. For the most part, pro golfers are a bunch of nonathletes who probably got cut from their high school football and basketball teams and didn't succeed at other sports. How fast would rotund golfers like John Daly or Craig Stadler run a 100-yard dash?

Many golfers in their 40s and 50s are competitive on the pro tour. Mark O'Meara won two major tournaments in 1998 at age 41. Three golfers over age 40 won the U.S. Open during the 1990s. Other well-known over-40 golf geezers who are still competitive on the tour include Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer and Nick Price. One golfer on the Seniors Tour, Larry Laoretti, plays his rounds of golf while smoking a foot-long cigar.

When Casey Martin brought his lawsuit asking that he be able to use a golf cart because of a disability, many golfers argued that golf was an athletic endeavor and that walking was an essential part of the sport.

Aside from its insensitivity to Mr. Martin's degenerative disease in his leg, the golf establishment looked foolish in defending its sport. If walking is a sport, maybe they should give medals to those who finish first in the Easter Day parade.

Pro golfers take themselves and their sport way too seriously. They go ballistic if someone dares to take a photograph of them before they're about to take a shot. Talking on the course? Forget about it. When someone is about to take a shot, the course becomes as silent as a library.

Sure, golf takes concentration, but so does taking a foul shot in basketball. You don't see cheerleaders telling the home crowd to be quiet when someone from the visiting team is at the foul line.

Golfers should build giant windmills and clown mouths on the course to spice the game up and make it more interesting. Let the golfers play defense on certain holes. Allow fans to heckle and try to distract the golfers when they're about the take a shot. Establish a shot clock mandating that the golfers take their strokes within 35 seconds. Let scantily clad cheerleaders surround the bunkers. Free ice cream for the gallery if a golfer gets a hole-in-one.

Tiger Woods deserves praise for his accomplishments, but put it in perspective. He might have mastered his sport, but if the sports landscape were a Thanksgiving meal, golf would be at the children's table.

Larry Atkins is a lawyer and writer who lives in Philadephia.

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