It’s the growing popularity of golf which drove me away from it. That, and idiots.
I was recently watching the Masters Golf Tournament on television. It’s been quite a while since I played the game with any seriousness, and I can’t recall the last time I watched a tournament on television. Actually, I got frustrated with watching golf on TV about the time Tiger Woods entered the scene.
Even those of you who know little about golf, have almost surely heard of Tiger Woods; and that is before all the tabloid headlines about his marital indiscretions and 100-million dollar divorce. Tiger changed the game of golf for his generation as Arnold Palmer had for the generation before mine.
Mr. Palmer was a daring player, a common man, if you will, who came to the PGA Tour from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It was his slashing, dashing style of play that made the everyday person believe that they, too, could play golf. He made golf popular and was a shining star just as the game began to be televised. I have vivid memories of my father sitting in front of our black and white TV on a Sunday afternoon, watching Arnold and others compete for what today seems like paltry purses.
And when Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in the late 1990’s, he also changed the game. Tiger’s emergence onto the Tour excited another generation to desire to play. And his story, that of starting as a child prodigy, swelled the ranks of Jr. Golf. Yes, Jr. Golf had been in existence already, but Tiger and his play made the grounds on the Jr. Teaching Tee overcrowded with children hungry to be Tiger Woods.
His impact was made evident to me when he was playing in the 1997 Masters. My (then-) wife actually sat down and watched Tiger’s entire final round. She knew nothing of golf—she could not have identified a golf ball in two-out-of-three tries—but she was swept up in the frenzy that the young Phenom had brought to golf around the world.
But the furor that surrounded Tiger was the main reason I stopped watching golf on TV.
How I was raised.
When I was taught the game, foremost in my education were the rules and etiquette of the sport. However, I was also taught the history of the game and how to treat it with respect.
When Tiger burst onto the Tour, the crowds soared to unprecedented heights. The new audience brought more revenue for the charities that benefited from PGA Tour events, but they also brought more viewers to TV and, therefore higher ad rates and higher purses for the players. Tiger changed the game for his fellow participants and those who followed him onto the tour.
I remember when Arnold Palmer became the first player to reach the one million dollar mark in career earnings. A few then followed. In 1989, Curtis Strange became the first player to surpass a million dollars in winnings in a single year. In 2007, ten years after Tiger’s debut, there were more than 150 players who won a million or more that year on the various golf tours; and the FedEx Cup alone pays the annual winner $10-million.
And I’m happy for them! I really am! But what I don’t like is that a new breed of spectator had come to the game. Throngs came out to see Tiger and they brought with them a new and quite vocal enthusiasm. It was as if soccer fans were now coming out to watch golf tournaments.
The Golf clap, the polite pitter-pattering applause of my youth, was long gone. Sure the crowds cheered when Palmer and Nicklaus and Player were battling for major championships. But they also remained supremely polite and observed the etiquette of the game.
Bigtime changes to the game.
But all of that changed with Tiger. Each time he struck a tee shot, people screamed “You da man!” at the top of their lungs. It was almost as if it were a game: See who could scream the loudest and quickest; just milliseconds after his driver struck the ball. And on each par-3, they’d scream, “In the hole!” They’d scream it every bleeping time he hit the ball.
I wonder if it ever bothered him. Was he aware that it was their enthusiasm for him and his game that brought him the $100-million in endorsements that he had before he even set foot on a course as a PGA Professional? Did he just tune them out? Tolerate them? I mean, they screamed like idiots. Every time he hit they’d yell, “YOU DA MAN!!!” at the top of their lungs. Or, “IN THE HOLE!!” on every approach shot or tee shot on a par-3.
I was tired of it by the second time I heard it. It grew so annoying to me that I stopped watching golf on TV. Everyone else seemed to accept it. The Tour certainly didn’t seem to mind. Nor did the television networks. Their revenues were soaring to unprecedented heights. But it just made my skin crawl. I could not understand the draw of screaming something so innocuous at the top of one’s lungs. To me it was as if they were trying to see who could be the stupidest or most obnoxious person in attendance.
But maybe it was a compliment to Tiger. Maybe he loved it; even thrived upon it.
So I decided to give it a try and see what would happen if I complimented, with the same enthusiasm, people across whom I came during the day. If they reacted appreciatively, I’d be willing to admit I was wrong…
I gave it a try.
One morning I was doing some grocery shopping and, at the checkout, I noticed how neatly and carefully the box boy was bagging my groceries. I looked at him and he smiled at me. Without warning, I burst forth with, “YOU DA MAN!!!” He reflexively flipped a loaf of bread over his shoulder and had to retrieve it two check stands away. I wasn’t sure if he appreciated my compliment, but he did maintain eye contact with me until I left the store.
At a drive-thru at lunchtime, I paid the window-attendant and accepted my sack-o-food. As she smiled at me I suddenly screamed, “YOU DA MAN!” as loudly as I could. Her eyes bulged and she fell back from the automatically slamming window. I may have observed a basket of fries cartwheeling through the air behind her, spewing radial streaks of scalding grease in its wake, but I wasn’t sure.
That evening I was visiting my aging aunt in her nursing home. She was sometimes lucid but most times not. Whenever I visited, she slept for most of the time, but I felt I should stop by once in a while to see if she remembered her family. The staff at the facility was more than helpful and professional. As one nurse checked in on her, he asked if I needed anything, too. I thought that was very nice of him and assured him that I was fine. As he turned to leave, I remembered my new method of paying a compliment and I quite forcefully yelled after him, “YOU DA MAN!”
He must have lost his footing on a slippery floor or something, because he fell forward and banged his head quite powerfully onto the door frame. I was going to stand to offer my assistance to him but it was at that moment I noticed that my aunt had opened her eyes and I wanted to visit with her. Interestingly, her face bore the same expression she’d had when I was a toddler and she’d discovered that I’d ironed three of her goldfish. She still said nothing to me but, all-in-all, it was a nice visit and I later learned that the woman across the hall, for reasons unknown to the staff, had overcome her ten-day bout with constipation. Ah, the tiny daily miracles of life…
After a few more attempts—being met with limited success—I came to the conclusion that yelling, “YOU DA MAN!” is as stupid in person as it is at golf tournaments. And I discovered, while watching this recent televised event, that some idiots are still prone to shout stupid epithets at the golfers. And since I am unable to just relax and let them be idiots, I guess I’ll find better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.