Friday, January 22, 2010

The Greats...for a reason.

by guest contributor: Don Moorhead

When I was a kid, there was only the lingering aftereffect of one of the great divides in sports history. It was still there, but only as a vestigal reminder of the past. The lines had mostly been blurred, and the sides had softened into mutual respect. But once upon a time, it was factions that made Team Coco vs. Team Leno look like nothing (actually, it already looks like nothing, but still...) battling it out for the soul of the game.

I'm talking, of course, about Jack vs. Arnie. The Golden Bear vs. Arnie's Army.

It's one of the things that makes professional golf so great. You see, most team sports are so geography dependent, they make fandom meaningless. I grew up in Cincinnati, thus I grew up rooting for the Reds, the Bengals (god help me), and the Cincinnati Stingers (of the WHA... no, really). It was predestined and predetermined, based solely on where I lived. There are a few exceptions to this, such as baseball in Chicago, where you root for the Cubs or the White Sox based on whether you're a drunken 20 year old yuppie-to-be or a drunken son of a plumbing contractor (or something like that, I'm generalizing). Also, had I been forced to pick an NBA team (the NBA did not, and in fact still does not, exist as far as Cincinnatians are concerned), it may have been the Lakers because of Kareem and eventually Magic. But it was just as likely to be the Pacers, because they were the closest team. In golf, you get to pick who you root for from the beginning. And not only that, you get to pick the criteria on which you base your choice. You can choose the crafty short-game guy, the big bomber, or the guy who wears the wacky clothes and clowns with the crowd. But back in the day, golf underwent a battle for its soul.

You know the biographies, so I won't bore you with them. Palmer was the son of the groundskeeper, Nicklaus was the silver-spoon priveleged one. Jack's swing was refined and his game was precise, Arnie gripped it and ripped it. And the rivalry was fierce. I remember my grandmother, the gentlest, sweetest woman in the entire world, who never said a bad word about anyone, calling Nicklaus "that stupid fat kid." Granted, this was in 1986, when he was in his 40s, but you get the point. Old habits died hard.

I thought of these two and their battles recently, as the whole you-know-who drama has unfolded. Jack turned 70 the other day, and was still talking about his clubhead speed and the state of his game. But he got off a great line when he said he was "still looking down at the grass" (it took me a full 5 minutes to get the opposed to looking up at the grass. Well played, sir). I laughed, and thought about his interview recently when they asked him about you-know-who and his problems. And he said, in essence, I don't care. It's none of my business, and it's none of your business. He was the first one I heard say that (other than maybe me, to myself). And then I thought about Arnie's interview a couple years back, when he got called out for endosing a club the USGA banned. Did Arnie kowtow to the powers that be? Did he put out a statement talking about the rich history and tradition and grandness of the game? No, he put up a rhetorical middle finger and said (paraphrasing) look, when most people go out an play golf, they carry 18 clubs, a couple of different types of ball, they play for $5 skins, ride in a cart, have a couple of beers, take mulligans and free drops, and they go out to have a good time. So sue us.

And then it all made sense. There's still a battle for golf's soul, and these two are still fighting it. Only now, they're on the same side. Whether we know it or not, they're on our side. Happy (belated) birthday, Jack. Keep up the good work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.


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