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No Deflategate, brain injuries or holdouts; Let’s go, Golf!

by J.W. Miller on 08/14/17

Golf has a lot going for it, and I want to give you an Andy Rooney analysis of why I believe that! I thought about it while watching the PGA Championship during a weekend in which I took my own clubs out and pretended I could chip, putt and get out of sand traps like the stars! I never get that same feeling watching the NFL or basketball or baseball, because I last put on a helmet and pads in 1965, I can't reach the basket from the free throw line and I recorded my last safe hit in the previous century. But I love golf because it gives my athletic aspirations some hope! 

Golf is the only major sport where the more experienced among us can watch the best players on television and then try to apply what they are doing to our modest games. Not that it always works so well but you get the idea. And there are other reasons. I like that watching golf is positive. You are rooting FOR players and not so much against them. Golf makes it hard to root against anybody. Sports is normally a 50-50 proposition. You either root FOR your team or AGAINST your team’s opponents. I root against the Yankees and the 49ers because as a Red Sox fan I grew up hating the Yankees and as a Saints executive I learned to hate the 49ers. But there's nobody in golf to hate. 

Spain’s Jon Rahm is as close to a golf villain as exists today, because he’s been known to toss a club or two. But he’s no Francisco Franco, a reviled politician who became a running joke on Saturday Night Live. Bubba Watson is supposed to be a jerk at times, but I love to watch Bubba’s self-taught creativity and he’s got two green jackets hanging in his closet. Probably the recent golfer closest to villainhood was Tiger Woods in his prime, whose dominance made him the game’s equivalence to the Yankees or 49ers in their prime. But more fans watched golf on TV when Tiger was contending, which was every tournament he played. His ability to almost guide a long putt into the hole with Vulcan mind tricks was as dazzling as it was unbelievable. Jordan Spieth has some of that ability to drop in long putts when he is in contention, although he was never in the PGA championship after mediocre rounds on Thursday and Friday. 

Some people don’t like Patrick Reed, who will never be a poker player because he wears his emotion on his sleeve. He was close to catching Justin Thomas late in the PGA championship, but he didn’t, and afterward you could tell he didn’t care if he finished tied for second or 50th. He didn’t win, and that’s why he showed up. I don’t penalize guys for showing emotion. Was there ever a more fun match to watch than Reed’s Ryder Cup singles win over Rory McIlroy last year when they matched radar-like chips and putts hole after hole? 

I like that golfers pay their own expenses to tournaments. They don’t take team-funded transportation, wear team-provided uniforms and eat pregame meals provided by the team. A football or basketball or baseball player can win or lose and still get paid. A golfer must play well enough for the first two rounds before they get paid and keep playing well to determine how much. If they don't play well the first two days, they pack up early and travel to the next tournament. 

I love that viewers feel they get to know the players in golf. They aren’t hidden by helmets or buried in wide shots of the field. Every one has a personality. Spieth is the boy next door, who plays like the assassin he is. I love the courtesy and professionalism of Spieth, who shows maturity well beyond his 24 years. Jason Day has a 100-watt smile that left him only briefly when his snowman at 18 on Saturday knocked him out of contention. That hole also showed that golfers are human. Did you ever see a worse decision in a professional golf tournament than when Day eschewed a punch-out to the fairway for an incredibly dangerous miracle shot through the trees? If you weren’t watching, it didn’t make it. 

  I love the fact that players who aren’t household names – Kevin Kisner, Chris Stroud, Jordan L. Smith – actually have a chance to win a major tournament on the final day. I like that golfers show their humility. After winning the PGA title Sunday, Thomas paid tribute to his father, who is a PGA professional at Harmony Landing in Louisville. And was there ever a more emotional finish than Davis Love III’s PGA title at Winged Foot in 1997 when he sank the winning putt under the arc of a rainbow that suddenly appeared, prompting announcer Jim Nantz to make the connection to Love’s father, a beloved golf pro who had died in 1988 at age 53. A little schmaltzy, but I like it.

I also like that golf is trying to expand its popularity by sponsoring shorter rounds for the public. Many courses now offer six-hole or per-hole rates for those who believe golf is not worth four hours of their day. I like the honor code of golf; there’s no other sport where the athlete is expected to call a foul on himself. Football players are always looking for an edge, whether it’s stickum on a receiver’s hands, lineman techniques that mask holding or an air pump in the equipment manager’s room. 

There are no Deflategates in golf. Golfers don’t hold out for more money or a new contract. I also haven’t seen any golfers suspended for the first six tournaments of the season for using performance enhancing drugs. And in old age, golfers won’t be suffering brain damage for repeated concussions. They’ll be playing on the senior tour. 

But probably the best thing I love about golf occurred Sunday, after the leaders had made the turn at Quail Hollow and were headed for the back nine. That’s when I hit the “record” button and went out and played golf. 

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