A game that is just an excuse

Allan Fotheringham June 27 1988

A game that is just an excuse

Allan Fotheringham June 27 1988

A game that is just an excuse


Allan Fotheringham

There is something about golf that has always puzzled me. Closer to the truth, everything about golf puzzles me. There is only one sport in the world more boring than golf. That is curling. Golf, since the advent of the motorized golf cart (compulsory on many California courses), doesn’t even involve exercise. It’s horribly expensive to get into a private club, horrendously crowded on the public courses. Most men use the game to get away from their wives since—unlike something sensible like tennis—it takes all day to play 18 holes.

But the answer to the riddle has become clear. Golf is so popular because it is the only sport where middle-aged, middle-class men can dress like pimps.

The clue to the puzzle fell into place last week during some extensive research at the U.S. Open, played in Brookline, the area of Boston that is the home of the next president of the United States,

Michael Dukakis. Thousands upon thousands of grown men, executives playing hooky from work, dressed in cerise, lime, pink, shocking yellow and passionate red —stripes, polka-dots, flowers. Bewitched, bothered and bewildering.

The Boston course is called The Country Club. No first name, just The Country Club—because it claims it was the first in America, the putting greens being planted shortly after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock and started to decimate the turkeys. It is famous for putting golf on the front pages, 75 years ago this summer, when an unknown amateur pulled off the biggest upset in golfing history.

In 1913, the reigning kings of world golf were two Englishmen, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon. They were expected to clean up on this course. Francis Ouimet was a local kid who had been a caddie on this course five years previous. At 20, wearing a tie of course in the game for gentlemen, in a match still talked about, he dramatically beat Vardon and Ray on the last two holes of this course for the U.S. Open title—and

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

was carried off on the shoulders of an ecstatic crowd (wearing ties). He has been a cult figure in Boston ever since.

As an amateur, he didn’t get a buck for his troubles. The trouble today is that interchangeable look-alike players make too much money, especially as none of them have any personality. This is just June, and the 100th top money-winner on the U.S. tour, one Larry Rinker, has already made $57,704. The number 1 guy, Sandy Lyle, has made $608,479—with six months still to go.

The problem is that, with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus now in the

shade, there are no identifiable heroes. Could you warm to Curtis Strange ($368,525 so far)? Or Craig Stadler ($240,473)? What about Bob Tway ($189,119)? Or Fred Couples ($298,343), Lanny Wadkins ($476,906), Hale Irwin ($104,484) or the immortal Jay Don Blake ($97,183)? Even somebody called Davis Love in is allowed into this pastel, faceless mob, with $72,574.

What is a man called Davis Love III doing in sport? Real sport belongs to people called Gump Worsley and Dit Clapper and Toe Blake. Guys like Sweeney Schriner and Babe Pratt and Mud Bruneteau. Them’s sport names, not Lanny and Craig and Curtis. It’s no wonder at all that the three best golfers in the world today are Scotland’s Lyle, Spain’s Seve Ballesteros and Australia’s Greg Norman. The Americans are handicapped because their parents expended so much energy in naming them that their formative influence was exhausted then and there. Payne

Stewart. Clarence Rose. Raymond Floyd. Scott Simpson. Loren Roberts. Get serious.

South Africa’s Gary Player, who

used to be the world’s best player when he was a tad younger (South Africa’s Bobby Locke was the world’s best player around the Ben Hogan era) is playing here. He is 52 and can still do onehanded pushups. Can you imagine

Davis Love III doing one-handed any-

thing? He doesn’t have any strength left, after packing that moniker around 18 holes.

You can tell you’re in Boston, the city of 22 universities, when you see the carts that very efficiently whisk away the trash bags that quickly fill up with empty beer cups (each one emblazoned with a The Country Club emblem). The trash cart has “Ecology” printed on it. In other places, it would be garbage. Not in the city of Harvard and Radcliffe and MIT.

At 1:25 there is the wail of the first ambulance, meaning the first dowager has collapsed. Men wear trousers decorated with a pattern of small green ducks. Or small blue o whales. Those who are not dressed right out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel are “ dressed as if just off the Dick Clark Saturday morning bandstand.

A man lies under a tree as the pinkshod army pounds past. He is on his back, his trousers pulled to his knees, his legs bent. He is either English or bored. It is quite clear why everyone wears sunglasses, the better to protect the orbs from the blinding flashes of the raiments of the spectators. A fat executive in yellow T-shirt and fuchsia shorts is not nature’s finest gift.

Men who wear identical uniforms— three-piece dark suits—every day are quite obviously frustrated by their conventions, chained to their costumes. They lust to express their personalities (as women do with their choice of garb every day) but do not dare.

It is why cities and golf courses and country clubs fight to win years ahead the victory as a U.S. Open site. It’s the secret of all golf. The chance for the male, every Saturday morning, to come out of his sartorial closet.