2001: Perspective - Dreary exhibition no place to dream
All golfers dream of one success or another – of lowering their score, of winning a tournament, of beating their archrival, of hitting the ball farther, of discovering the elusive secret that will resurrect their game.
The dream: It never ends.
Golf’s greatest quality is that it can be played as long as we are healthy enough to swing the club. Age is no barrier to enjoyment of the game.
Approaching his 72nd birthday, Arnold Palmer refuses to surrender the dream. He still talks of hitting longer drives, of improving his performance. He still dreams.
At 65, Gary Player played in this summer’s British Open. He continued to talk of winning a major championship for seniors in this decade – meaning he would extend his streak of professional majors – regular or senior – to a remarkable six consecutive decades. He still dreams.
Jack Nicklaus, who must claim 61 years and one artificial hip, pursues an active tournament schedule and spits in the eye of time. He still dreams.
They were called the Big Three, and many of us were lucky enough to see them at their apex. Palmer, Player and Nicklaus were like gods in the golf arena.
We were lucky in another way, too – we were mostly spared the agony of watching our heroes in lame, contrived, ponderous, unemotional, uninteresting extravaganzas such as the Battle at Bighorn. When the Big Three played for television it was stroke play, and it was serious.
Bev Norwood works for IMG. He is polite and unassuming and very good at his job, which could be described as vice president of hype and hysteria. Well, that’s what he ought to be called.
At the British Open, where IMG client David Duval won his first major title, Norwood departed with these words: “See you at the next major . . . the Battle at Bighorn.”
I missed this Battle, I’m happy to say, but I didn’t miss the fact that all four of the Bighorners were in the IMG stable. Somebody is riding those horses to the nearest bank.
If golf is to be turned into a series of dog-and-pony shows, the sport is cheapened. I can think of one justification – if such circus acts are responsible for new golfers trying the game.
Still, I doubt this will happen. I doubt the Battle at Bighorn will attract new golfers. Golf as a sideshow is mostly a flop, because the game is much too slow for those accustomed to the slam-bam action of contemporary television.
This is not to say that IMG hasn’t done good deeds. Since the early days of Palmer’s career, the company has helped raise public awareness of professional golf.
Bighorn, too, deserves recognition that goes beyond this little “handout” that pretends to be a “battle.” Bighorn is one of America’s most picturesque, most appealing golf developments.
The deepest joy of golf is in the participation – the playing – and not the watching. Yes, golf can be a compelling spectator sport if the competition is meaningful. However, golf’s biggest rewards are for those who play.
The skill level hardly matters, because there is always the dream. All golfers dream of climbing the ever-present ladder in their mind.
In this sense, golf is forever. As long as we can draw the club back, we will play. As long as the Big Three can make birdies, they will continue dreaming of new accomplishments. In decades hence, if we continue to be lucky, we will see them become the ceremonial starters at the Masters.
The Paycheck at Bighorn may have been exciting to the four players, but they were alone. This wasn’t golf. It was some impostor, like your favorite uncle all drugged up and unrecognizable.
Golf is about the dream. It is about Tiger Woods dreaming of majors, of catching Nicklaus. It is about Dan Divotmaker dreaming of a two-digit score, of breaking 100.
The dream is powerful. When Palmer says – over and over – that he will retire when he can no longer play to his standards, he is fooling himself. He has posted plenty of scores in the 80s, and he keeps coming back for more.
And you know what? We encourage him, because we know the dream is still alive. In a world that is more and more disappointing, this golf dream is at least one thing to believe in.
The longer and louder Palmer talks about retirement, the less he is likely to do it. He won’t fade away to some practice tee with his Lamkin grips, as he has said. He is more likely to show up at next week’s tournament.
The dream keeps him going. Perhaps it will keep us going. Here’s to golf, a wholesome game that promotes good health and good dreaming.