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Weighing in

Mark Calcavecchia not only scored a victory for old guys, he scored one for fat guys. So the 46-year-old winner of the PODS Championship most certainly is a hero of those in the Early-Bird-Special All-You-Can-Eat buffet line. He has crossover appeal.

Calcavecchia, of course, is not a buffet artist in the big league of, say, “Lumpy” Herron, John Daly and Pick-a-Stadler, but he does have a leg bigger than the man he defeated, Heath Slocum. What’s more, Calcavecchia’s round countenance can prompt resurrection of the age-old question: Are golfers athletes?

The very asking of that question, of course, ticks off some professional golfers, more likely the ones who have substituted the gym for the 19th hole. The number of sweaty workout types keeps growing on the PGA Tour as the number of buffet artists drops. Even a famous beer drinker such as Ernie Els has a trainer and is doing more than 12-ounce curls these days.

As for the answer, it is simple: Some professional golfers are athletes, but it is by no means a requirement. Tiger Woods? Athlete. Guy Boros? Athlete only in the sumo sense. Camilo Villegas? Looks like an athlete. Duffy Waldorf? Doesn’t look like one, particularly in those clothes fit for Goodwill donation.

The percentage of athletes in amateur golf drops dramatically. If you can gain weight while you’re doing it, then maybe it isn’t a sport. If you can eat a hot dog and drink a vodka-tonic in the middle of the competition, then maybe you’re not an athlete, at least at that moment.

Ah, but what about powerlifting? Those guys gain weight while they’re doing their sport. Not that I’m going to tell any of those high-testosterone muscle heads to their face, but they’re not athletes, either. One of them, though, might be your next governor.

By definition, your garden-variety athlete tends to sweat, and, no, I don’t mean like Hal Sutton through his clothes in the 100-plus heat index of the Memphis tournament. And not sweating in the sense of, “Oh, no, Tiger is gaining on me!” I mean sweating caused by things like running and jumping.

Not that it matters whether or not professional golfers are athletes. They are good at swinging a stick. They are hand-eye-coordination wizards. Most at the PGA Tour level are repel-the-mental-demons specialists. And they can putt.

Let’s face it, there’s only one sport in which Ed Fiori can beat Tiger Woods. I say that without having seen The Grip throw darts or play shuffleboard.

Probably because of a purse escalation, the number of hefty types has declined the last 15 years or so, to the point of dying-breed status. One dough factor is in, another dough factor is out.

There are fewer players nicknamed “Porky” in this era. And some, like Rocco Mediate, have undergone transformations, as if someone stuck them in the dryer for hours and set the heat needle on Shrink.

Just one man’s opinion, but the decline in plumpness on Tour is unfortunate. The loss of girth, not to force a rhyme, might be linked to the loss of mirth. We’ve all seen it. A fat guy loses weight and all of a sudden he’s not as funny.

I think my humorous pal Charlie Rymer might be the poster boy for that. He lost 30 or so pounds and the laughs he drew were cut in half. The applause rose again when his poundage did. So if you’re a comic, diet at your own risk.

I’m not sure why rotund guys seem to be funnier than skinny men. It might have something to do with the desire to attract friends and radio jobs. It might have to do with inner joy. Why else does no one use the phrase “thin and happy”?

It’s very possible that a fleshy pro will have the last laugh this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Granted, the ripped Tiger Woods won four consecutive years (2000-03) and 175-pound beneficiary Rod Pampling accepted Greg Owen’s gift last year. But that’s not to say the way to the victory circle isn’t through the chow line.

Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry, two cheeky Southerners who don’t project an aversion to dessert, won in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Herron, the cookie’s best friend, was champion in 1999. And Phil Mickelson won in 1997, though it’s unclear what side of the weight yo-yo the man sometimes known as Hefty was on then.

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