THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GOLF
Iraq is floundering, with no one at the tiller. Afghanistan is slowly cratering again, while no one pays attention. Millions of children are about to starve in Somalia. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has announced her resignation, having finally realized, I suppose, that this administration considers trees and clean air to be luxuries their friends cant afford. The dollar is going down for the third time. Mad cows threaten from Canada, and SARS threatens from Hong Kong. Nobody can figure out how to refold the road map to peace in Israel. A single audio tape from Al Qaeda has once again turned Washington all aquiver. John Ashcrofts Office of Big Brother reveals that it has indeed been visiting libraries to check out which books youve
checked out, thus securing your liberty by violating your library and your liberties. And, oh yes, Donald Rumsfeld wants to start testing mini-nukes.
Nevertheless, an informal poll concludes that middle-aged Republican women think George W. Bush looks hot in a flight suit, so I guess everything is all right.
That means its okay for me to leave politics for a week and take on a subject I actually know something about--a subject that is dear to the hearts of Republicans everywhere. Thats right: golf.
As I write this, on Wednesday, May 21, it is the day before Annika Sorenstam, far and away the best female golfer in the world, starts play in the Colonial, a PGA Tour mens golf tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. Until now, PGA Tour and mens were synonymous.
For ten years, I was a senior editor for Golf Digest, so I know a little about professional golfers. I know that if you asked the 100 top American male golfers how many of them voted for Al Gore in the last election, you could almost certainly count the number on two hands, probably one, so the whole idea of a woman challenging the men in a mens tournament--a woman stepping out of her place, if you will--has caused a bit of a roil. Some of the men players--like Vijay Singh and Nick Price, both of whom are normally nice, soft-spoken people--have said Annika should not be allowed to play. They hint that shes in it just for the publicity and the resultant endorsement money.
Others, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the tours most politically correct stars, have publicly supported her, with only a bit of hedging. (Tiger hinted that her playing would be good for women only if she plays well.) But most male players, when asked their position on Sorenstams going after the men, have tried really hard not to answer the question at all. Even many of the women pros arent sure its a good idea.
As for me, the issue is simple: When an athlete is the best in his or her weight class, its only right and natural for them to move up a class. As David Feherty, the bright and witty golf announcer, has pointed out, if Tiger Woods heard of a tour where the golf was even better than on the PGA Tour (call it the Demigod Tour) hed be angling for an invitation to play there next week, just to test himself against the best. Thats precisely what Sorenstam has done. Shes trying to discover the top limit of her ability. Name a true athlete who wouldnt do the same.
You may be reading this after Sorenstams first two rounds in the tournament. She may have already missed the cut (as I predict she will, what with the pressure and distractions shell be facing). If she actually does make the cut, it will be one of the most remarkable athletic feats of the century--a seminal one, if I may use that male-centric word. After all, this isnt Billy Jean King in her prime taking on Bobby Riggs in his dotage. This is a woman taking on the best men in the world, no handicaps, in a sport where strength is still a huge advantage.
But if Sorenstam doesnt make the cut--even if she humiliates herself in front of the world--the men who say she doesnt belong had best not gloat. Thats because pretty soon now, a woman will appear who can
make the cut. Its already happening in many sports: the difference between the mens and womens world records in, for example, the marathon and most swimming races, has shrunk astonishingly in just a few years. It may be a long, long time before a woman plays in the NFL or the NBA, but in certain other sports, the women are just about there. In tennis, for example, the Williams sisters already hit their serves upwards of 118 m.p.h.--faster than most of the men. And theres no reason women cant compete head-to-head with men in bowling or billiards.
As for golf, theres a 13-year-old girl named Michelle Wie you should know about. Wie already hits her drives 300 yards and more--longer than most of the best men--and shes already done well in womens professional events. Shes been invited to play this year in several tournaments on the Nationwide Tour--a mens pro golf tour that is the minor league of golf. Perform well there, and you automatically get invited to play on the PGA Tour. Asked what her goals are, Wie says she expects not only to play on the PGA Tour someday, but to win the Masters, perhaps the countrys most revered tournament.
The Masters, you may recall, had a little brouhaha this year when Hootie Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National Country Club, where the Masters is played, proclaimed that the all-male club would admit women only in its own good time.
Every year, the winner of the Masters gets a green jacket to mark his victory. This year the winner of the green jacket was Mike Weir, who, as a little left-handed Canadian, unofficially broke barriers for several minority groups. Now Im looking forward to the day when Hootie Johnson gets to put that green jacket over the not-so-slender shoulders of a golfer whose name is, not Michael, but Michelle.
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