With the 48th annual FedEx St. Jude Classic to be played this weekend at Southwind's newly redesigned course, I turn my attention to golf for one of the five weeks each year the sport can actually distract me from baseball and other goings-on. David Toms will try to join Dave Hill and Lee Trevino as the only three-time Memphis winners, and if he does, he'll become the first to win here three consecutive years. That angle aside, I've got five things I'd change about professional golf to make the game more compelling for Joe Casual Fan.
· Cheering -- loud cheering! -- is allowed. Put down all those "Hush Y'all" signs at Southwind. Baseball players have to use a narrow stick to try to hit a spheroid smaller than a potato hurled at them at 90 mph -- all while a stadium filled with people is screaming everything from "Hot dog!" to "You stink!" Golfers should be able to hit their ball (which is sitting still, mind you) with their sticks despite a few cheers and jeers. I'd allow for silence around the greens, as putting has to be among sport's most nerve-fraying endeavors. But on the driving tee? In the fairway? Scream and shout for your favorite! And boo the bad guy. The fact is, it's the random shouts and whistles from isolated miscreants in a sea of silence that make Tiger Woods break off a swing as though he's been stung by a hornet. With a chorus of sounds similar to those of nearly every other professional sport, a golfer should be no more distracted as he swings than a knock-kneed utility infielder facing Randy Johnson.
· A leader's jersey for the front-runner. I love the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. There's an old-fashioned prestige to a pace-setter standing out from his competitors by the color of his shirt. It's honorable and appropriately attention-grabbing. Why not have the leader (or leaders) after each round play the following round in, say, a bright green shirt? (Tiger seems to have patented the red jersey for Sundays.) Sure, the player may lose his lead on the second hole, but so what? Leading the field at Augusta after 18 (or 36, or 54) is impressive. Give the leader a nod and a little something to make him stand out. (As for the opening round, allow the winner of the previous week's tournament to wear the shirt. And if he's a no-show, make it glaringly obvious. Cries of "Where's the green shirt?" will point to a weakness of the modern PGA: The best players don't play every week.)
· Uniform equipment for the four majors. I understand that Titlist and Cleveland are as much a part of the PGA as Mickelson and Singh. But equipment, for the love of Pete, shouldn't be a deciding factor in the game's most prestigious events. In the majors, I'd make all the players use the same brand of clubs and balls, thereby eliminating equipment as a variable.
· A name -- the player's! -- on every hat. Yes, I'm aware golfers have sponsors who use them as walking billboards, but it's getting out of hand. Watching the U.S. Open shouldn't remind viewers of a NASCAR race. I often don't know the name of the player under the Toyota lid. Is that Fred Funk or Jim Furyk? If every player is going to cover half his face with a cap, have him put his name above the bill. There's still plenty of room for logos on the players' shirts. If the television networks want viewers to tune in when Tiger isn't at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, a nice start would be to help make the other players easily identifiable to me and other casual fans.
· Mic the caddie. Thanks to mini-microphones, we've heard baseball managers discussing strategy in the dugout, football coaches screaming expletive-laced instructions on the gridiron, and trainers telling their fighters -- for the 27 millionth time -- to "get to the body!" Why not let us in on what Ernie Els is hearing as he deliberates clubs for a 200-yard approach over water? Think that wouldn't be as compelling as Johnny Miller's take on things? Even if it's done on tape delay, after the shot is taken, I can't imagine a modern tool that could bring a weekend hacker closer to life as a PGA stud than to hear a PGA caddie offering his unique wisdom. That is, if his words aren't drowned out by the cheering fans.