The ladies and the Tiger at golf's biggest day


THE PROBLEM with letting women into your golf club, of course, is that invariably it leads to baby-changing tables in the locker rooms and blush wine with the pulled-pork barbecue and members yakking about window treatments instead of about stiffing a 4-iron from 200 yards.

Hootie Johnson, the chairman of the all-male Augusta National Golf Club, understands all this.

So when the Masters golf tournament begins today, Hootie and the other rich guys who run golf's most illustrious tournament will welcome fans of both genders - at least if they`ve coughed up $125 for a four-day pass.

But if a woman were to look around and think, "Gee, this seems like a nice place - think I'll join," the answer from the membership committee would be: "Darlin,' you run along now."

This has led to Hootie's well-publicized dust-up with Martha Burk, the slightly nutty head of the National Council of Women's Organizations.

Two weeks ago, as the bombs were dropping in Baghdad, Burk somehow found a way to link a stupid golf tournament and her cries of discrimination to the war in Iraq.

"Showcasing a club that discriminates against women is an insult to the nearly quarter-million women in the U.S. armed forces," she said while trying to persuade CBS not to televise the Masters. "It's appalling that the women who are willing to lay down their lives for democratic ideals should be shut out of this club."

Hoo, boy. Nothing like keeping things in perspective, Martha.

But Martha will be at the Masters, too, this week, picketing the place to draw attention to her cause.

Unfortunately, because of a court ruling, Burk won't be allowed to picket in front of Augusta National's main gates, where anyone attending the Masters would actually see her.

Instead, she's been confined to a wretched little field she calls "a pit," hard by a pawn shop and a bleep-looking apartment complex, that may be the most depressing place in all of Augusta.

This, of course, is fine with Hootie and the boys, who would just as soon have all the feminist riff-raff swallowed by a sinkhole.

Apparently, they're not nuts about the peaceniks, either. Because according to an article in the Augusta Chronicle, fans attending the Masters won't be allowed to wear buttons or hats or T-shirts that express a political or social point of view.

Presumably, it's OK to wear a $150 Masters sweater from the souvenir shop, or even the kind of hideous green-and-gold Bermuda shorts I saw on one geezer during a Masters broadcast last year.

But a T-shirt that says "War is not the answer," or a button that says "You go, Martha!"?

No, that won't do at all.

Sorry, we'll have to ask you to leave.

In any event, I think I speak for most golf fans when I say we don't give a hoot about either Hootie or Martha, real fans being far more interested in seeing The Greatest Golfer Who Ever Lived.

This, of course, would be Tiger Woods, who is trying for his third straight Masters win, something that's never been accomplished in the rich history of the tournament.

If he's victorious, instead of fitting him for the traditional green jacket, they should fit him with flowing white robes and a bejeweled staff, and the rest of us should drop to our knees and murmur "We're not worthy, we're not worthy ... "

Of all golfers on the PGA Tour - the blandest bunch of young men you'll ever see - only Tiger has the game that makes you elbow the person next to you and shout: "Did you see that!?"

At the U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda a few years ago, I walked 18 holes with Tiger's gallery, which consisted of about 29,000 of the 30,000 fans in attendance that day.

It was hot, in the 90s and steamy. On the first tee, with the crowd around me seven deep, two people actually passed out.

Even as the paramedics moved in to aid the stricken fans, the rest of the gallery stepped over them - oh, golf fans can be pigs - to get a better look at Tiger's drive.

Tiger didn't disappoint them. He smacked a 1-iron, the club crossing the tee with a loud whoosh! and the ball screaming 250 yards down the middle of the fairway in a bright, white blur.

For a moment the crowd was silent, as if not sure what it just saw: a golf swing so perfect it took your breath away. But then it erupted in whoops and cheers of "TI-GER! TI-GER!" and it was that way for 17 more holes, Tiger thrilling the masses again and again with his artistry.

So I'll be watching this Masters to see Tiger, not the Hootie and Martha Show.

Besides, we already know how that one's going to end.

And Hootie won't be the one smiling.

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