The wrong club for Tiger

July 26, 2002|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON - So, Tiger Woods is human after all. The worst playing day of his professional career helped him to lose the British Open. Big time. I wonder if his conscience was bothering him.

Of course, the stormy weather was a major factor. Nothing takes you off your game like a small hurricane in your face. Yet, his opponent, Ernie Els, managed to shoot a 72, while Tiger fell way behind the leaders with a miserable, for him, 81.

As I, a Tiger fan, sadly watched his game look almost as pathetic as mine, I could not help but wonder how much another event might still be weighing on his mind.

A few days earlier, reporters asked Mr. Woods for his opinion about recent complaints about the lack of women among the 300 members at Augusta National, where the Masters tournament is played.

And, for that matter, what about the absence of double-X chromosomes at Muirfield, home of the British Open?

Tiger addressed this ball and whiffed. He delivered the sort of non-excuse upon which discrimination thrives.

"It's one of those things where everyone's entitled to set up their own rules the way they want them," he said. "It would be nice to see everyone have an equal chance to participate if they wanted to, but there's nothing you can do about it."

Oh, please. If there's anyone who could do something to help the world of men-only country clubs catch up with the new century, it's Tiger Woods.

I can understand why Mr. Woods would not want to boycott two out of the four biggest and most historic championships in golf, although he would make a very special kind of history if he did.

He might even make history in the dramatic way Eric Liddell, the deeply religious British runner memorialized in the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire, did when he refused to run in a race at the 1924 Olympics, despite pressure from the Prince of Wales himself, because the event was scheduled on a Sunday.

Mr. Woods doesn't need to stage a boycott to make a powerful statement. He could cause a tremor just by mentioning the possibility he might not play. Mr. Woods caused a similar quake two years ago when he hinted he might avoid PGA Tour events because of disagreements over such big issues as the use of his image in marketing campaigns.

That's how you spark real activism out of professional athletes these days: trespass on their endorsement rights. If the old guiding motto was, "Let your conscience be your guide," today's must be, "Show me the money."

Yes, everyone is entitled to form a club and include or exclude whomever they wish. But don't kid yourself into applauding Augusta National and its colorful president, Hootie Johnson, for refusing to cave in to "political correctness," the label today's macho-conservatives use to describe what civilized society used to call good manners.

In fact, the good ol' boys at Augusta have the right to run around in loincloths behind their closed gates, as long as they keep it among themselves and their guests. But when private clubs take on public roles, they relinquish their immunity to public scrutiny and accountability.

Call me old-fashioned. I'm glad that after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line, he found stronger ways to respond to the great questions of his time than "everyone's entitled" and "nothing you can do." He spoke out and wrote letters to presidents.

"Life is not a spectator sport," he said. "If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you're wasting your life."

Tiger Woods also knows that there is more to life than sports. His foundation, for example, has helped expose millions of underprivileged kids to the game of golf.

Some of those kids may grow up to be champs. Some may be girls. Someday they might even be eligible to join Augusta. That's why I can't help but wonder how much that vision weighs on Tiger's conscience. Someday, when he looks back, it would be nice to know he was on the right side of history.

Clarence Page is a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune publishing newspaper. His column appears Fridays in The Sun.

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