April 14, 2013

The culture of golf

Golf is one of the few spectator sports that has an honor system, which makes it increasingly out of date. In contrast, baseball always had a culture in which getting away with cheating was admired. There were occasional players famous for their sense of fair play -- if the lone umpire during the dead ball era had his vision blocked, he would sometimes ask Ivy League gentleman Christie Mathewson to call the play for him -- but that was famously exceptional. Baseball is a team game, where loyalty to teammates is considered more important one's conscience. Golf, however, is different.

The honor system in golf is not for showing off Presbyterian rectitude for its own sake, but to facilitate gambling, which has always been a huge part of the game. Golfers wander all over a quarter square mile or more of landscape, providing endless opportunities for cheating. The chief enforcement mechanism in a culture of betting is a concern for one's reputation as a sportsman. The statements made by other golfers about Tiger Woods this week have been in the ancient tradition of gentlemen policing their game, which is why it has struck many observers as atavistic.

Here is one of the less famous incidents of golfers calling penalties on themselves, but I saw it live on TV and it was still pretty amazing: Arnold Palmer calling an extra stroke on himself on the 69th hole of the 1984 U.S. Senior Open while in second place:
Miller Barber, who won 11 PGA Tour events before enjoying tremendous success on the Senior Tour, had begun the final round one shot behind the iconic Palmer, but Barber had gone ahead with a series of 10 straight pars and as they stood on the 15th green, Barber was now ahead by two shots.  
Palmer had air-mailed a 7-iron over the green at the par-3, chipped to 10 feet, and missed his par-saving putt, leaving it just on the edge of the cup. He walked up and nonchalantly stabbed at it, but he stubbed his putter and never touched the ball. After sweeping it in on the second try he immediately informed Barber that his score was a double-bogey 5.  
"I couldn't believe it,” said Barber, who was so thrown by the incident that he went on to three-putt for a bogey, though his lead still increased to three shots. “In my wildest imagination I wouldn't have known he had done it if he hadn't spoken up.’’ 

I saw this happen live on TV. When they came back after the commercial, the announcers were stunned that Palmer had added a stroke to his score. They showed the replay about 8 times of Arnie raking in the 1 inch putt, but there was nothing visual to show that the great man had made two motions. But he knew, so he told his rival to add an extra stroke on his scorecard.

Like Tiger today, Arnie was not getting any younger in 1984 and was running out of competitive time. Fortunately, he came back to win one more senior major the next year.


wren said...

Atavistic? ;-)

You know, you are right. We may need more of that.

Anonymous said...

We Asians are so proud of Tiger Woods. He is a credit to Asians everywhere.

Cail Corishev said...

This is a good object lesson about capitulating to the left. Golf has caved in to pressure over the years (sometimes willingly, sometimes not so much) with integrated courses, women in clubs that used to be men-only, loosened rules on attire, and so on. It made a black guy the entire face of the game (yeah, he was one of the greatest ever, but now a whole generation thinks of golf as Tiger Woods and a bunch of white guys acting as the Washington Generals, which wasn't necessary).

Golfers might have thought all that would buy them some benefit of the doubt from liberals. But no, as soon as a chance to beat up on golf comes along, the same people are right back at it with the same vehemence, just as if nothing had changed since 1950.

The lesson: don't give in, don't try to befriend them or butter them up. They may scale back the hate while you properly supplicate, but as soon as you show a little of your old background, you'll find out their attitude hasn't changed at all.

anony-mouse said...



(Note the only actual game mentioned)

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...

Even Goldfinger - the best Bond villain - was forced to submit to the rules of golf.


Auric Goldfinger = Better Sportsman than Tiger Woods.

Anonymous said...

Christy Mathewson was not Ivy League; he went to Bucknell.

Anonymous said...

Actually baseball should.get rid of the ancient relic of umpires.

Half blind, middle-aged white men making at least 10% wrong calls and getting away with them is unforgivable when a camera.can see the play much more accurately.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that millions of people who've never played golf watch the Masters. Up until now, that was good for golf, good for promoting the integrity of the game, but now you have people who've never walked a course shouting that if a rule is stupid, it's okay for it to be broken.

I'll bet the USGA is spitting mad right now. They spend a lot of money promoting the history and integrity of the game and the abiding of the letter and the SPIRIT of the Rules of Golf and they know both Tiger and the Masters' officials blew this big time.

Tiger had a chance to win back some respect for the asshole he's basically been most of his life--like his dad.

I think this is a case of nature trumping nurture, Steve. I think his father's genes trumped his mother's.

agnostic said...

Any time since the '80s?

Anonymous said...

Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post today:

"Long ago, Bobby Jones, who created the Masters, was complimented for calling a penalty on himself that no one else saw. He said that he no more deserved congratulation for such an act than “for not robbing a bank.” On Saturday, Jones might have withdrawn from the Masters to honor the spirit of the rules of golf. But then Bobby Jones wouldn’t let people of color play in his tournament to honor the spirit of the South. So, pick your poison."

To pull of this "racists!" claim, Boswell has to avoid quoting any of the living golfers who have called for Woods to withdraw. So he talks to some random fandom and skips anything about what Jack or Arnold or the others think. Because he doesn't--yet--want to call them racists.

David said...

So Tiger can get away with breaking any rules. The onus is on the person calling him on his cheating. The burden to be met is not only to prove that he cheated, but also to prove that penalizing him isn't "racist."

How was Tiger Woods good for golf again?

Our grandfathers (or great-grandfathers) knew things we didn't when they made up those crazy old rules about who could be admitted to a country club and who couldn't.

That's why I say history is cyclical, not a progressive line trending forever heavenward. The older generations were more advanced - more knowledgeable, sophisticated, sophisticated - about some things than we are. Idiocracy, indeed.

David said...

From wikipedia:

"[Woods] has won 14 professional major golf championships, the second highest of any player (Jack Nicklaus leads with 18)."

The USGA should quietly ask Augusta to give Woods 4 Masters coats right now, just to be rid of him. He would take them in a heartbeat.

David said...

The reason Arnie was so honorable is that his early career consisted of driving beaters to gigs, playing for penny ante bets. You can be damn sure cheating was considered the equivalent of robbing a bank back then.

Anonymous said...

"We Asians are so proud of Tiger Woods. He is a credit to Asians everywhere."

LOL. Blacks, and the media, and Nike didn't let Tiger be Asian, even though I do believe from what he said when he was quite young that he thought of himself that way.

Nike insisted he be black, and he and his father capitulated once they learned what Nike promised to do for them.

Anonymous said...

"In Argentina, we celebrated the bad goal more than the good goal, because it was against the English, who seemed to deserve it."

Maradona made clearer sense and expressed gratitude to the English, without apparent sarcasm, for the second goal. "Thanks to England," he said, "I scored the best goal of my life, in a World Cup, a dream goal, a beautiful, precious goal, and I don't think I could have done it against any other team because they all used to knock you down."


Although he was to score a goal of comparable virtuosity against Belgium in the semi-finals, Maradona ascribed some of the credit for that one to the "nobility" of English players in not subjecting him to a so-called professional foul. "They are probably the noblest in the world," he said. "Don't get me wrong - they tackle hard, they're not soft, but they always go for the ball and, when they see they've no chance of getting it, then it becomes a game to them [they stick to the rules] and that is something that we South Americans do not understand."


Anonymous said...

"We Asians are so proud of Tiger Woods. He is a credit to Asians everywhere."

Tiger Woods is a story of pussillanimity of beta

David said...

Apologies = "sophisticated, sophisticated" should've been "sophisticated, civilized".

Rohan Swee said...

"On Saturday, Jones might have withdrawn from the Masters to honor the spirit of the rules of golf. But then Bobby Jones wouldn’t let people of color play in his tournament to honor the spirit of the South. So, pick your poison."

So we have to pick, eh? We can have no racial discrimination, or we can have a culture of honorable men, but not both? Is that what you're saying, Mr. Boswell?

Anonymous said...

"We Asians are so proud of Tiger Woods. He is a credit to Asians everywhere."

Even discounting the fact that Woods has never presented himself as an Asian, WHY are you proud? He plays a game called golf very well, that is all. He didn't discover a cure for cancer did he? He just plays a game for which he is happy to make hundreds of millions of dollars. What is so noble about that? His personal life was marked by adultery, betrayal and immaturity.