Friday, February 16, 2007

The PGA Tour is a hostile environment, and there isn't a more graphic portrayal of this vile atmosphere than in the month of November. It's the start of the Silly Season, in more ways than one.

At the top of the food chain, floating luxuriously in inflatable arm chairs on the surface of the pond, drinking pi-a coladas, are the superstars, playing in events such as the Tour Championship, Kapalua, the Sarazen World Open, the Shark Shootout, and The Skins Game.

Meanwhile, down in the snarf-'n-barf area, the bottom feeders graze on the effluent produced by the affluent. Which is to say the first stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament is underway. Nibbling on these nasty leftovers are the game's real heroes.

Folks, meet Joe Schmoe from Kokomo, fresh from another terrifying experience on an evil course where he must play the last four holes in two-under or go back to selling buckets of range balls. Or worse yet, face another year on the Hooters Tour. Joe stands about as much of a chance as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

In the meantime, Fred Couples is standing over a putt, which, if he makes, will win him the island of Molokai. (It's not just for lepers anymore.)

Such telecasts from the Qualifying Madness should be banned. It's golf's version of auto racing: We watch only to see the crash-and-burn. It's gruesome. The tournament itself is bad enough. A golden carrot is dangled in front of the nostrils of golf's donkeys and only a few get a bite.

You have to understand the failure rate to have a comprehensive grasp of what is going on here. Odds are most of those who are successful at the Tour School will be back the following year -- older, poorer, and obviously not a lot wiser.

Instead, they are more like chum in the water (we didn't say "chunk it in the water") waiting for sharks and other big fish to come along and gobble them in one bite. For the wannabes, watching the Skins Game is the Holy Grail. It's like the homeless pressing their noses against the window of a fancy restaurant. They drool over the food being stuffed into the mouths of the rich and famous, knowing that even the waiters -- caddies in this particular analogy -- are better off than they are.

But that's part of the professional game's charm and part of the reason communism never works. It overlooks one unwritten law of nature -- man's insatiable desire to be better than the next man. In golf, the ladder to the top is fitted with rungs that bear a remarkable resemblance to the face of the guy who just marked your scorecard. (non-metal spikes are optional.)

What's more, it's not just for youngsters anymore! The Senior PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament is even more of a rat race, with older, nastier rats. These guys have had 50 years to figure out who they don't like. Chances are that Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan are at the top of the seniors' Most Hated list at the moment.

Isn't there a law in this country against robbing old people? While the Senior Tour keeps the Roadkill Rug Company in business, Irwin is pulling his hair out and dying what's left pure white in a futile attempt to appear older and more harmless.

However, more help is on the way in the shape of Tom Watson, Tom Kite, and a few others, a fact that will not cheer up any of the geezers at the bottom of the ladder who must battle for one of the measly eight exempt spots the Senior Tour hands out miserly in its Qualifying Tournament.

Which brings me to my point... I think.

There is far too much emphasis on success here in the U.S., and I think it's about time we started rewarding the occasional persistent idiot for not having enough sense to pack it in. The seed of this idea germinated in my twisted mind as I watched the Poulan Weedeater Bowl during college football's Silly Season last year.

I thought, "What if the two worst teams of the year got together and played each other on New Year's Day? We'd call it the Sani-Flush Toilet Bowl. We'd have incentives like an LVP (Least Valuable Player) award, the one nobody wants to win. Who cares who's playing for number one? I want to see who has enough fortitude to keep from finishing last.

Taking this idea to the golf course, we'd take the four guys who shot the worst scores in the first stage of Qualifying School -- and believe me, you see some guys there who think they're good enough to play the Tour, but can't break 90 in the Kiwanis Four-Ball.

We fly them to Maui for the first annual No-Wins Game. I want to see a guy who owns one pair of golf shoes -- with a hole in the toe of the left -- and a bag held together with duct tape and who has spent the last six weeks sleeping in the back seat of his monkey-poop-brown Buick Skylark, standing over a three-footer for a quarter of a million bucks.

You'd get nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders from Couples if he gagged the funny-money putt. But you never know with Joe. He might freak out and run toward the nearest cliff, like a lemming on acid.

It would be a ratings monster. In the meantime...

    From the back of his car, to the range,
    then the bar,
    He's been living on pretzels and beer.
    Surrounded by losers,
    Sharks, hustlers, and boozers
    He's been awaiting this chance for a year.

    With two grand in the bank, one nauseating shank
    Cost him his card last fall.
    But this time he won't make
    That embarrassing mistake
    Despite Harmon ignoring his call.

    No way, you might say, will Joe have his day
    On the links with Norman and Tiger.
    But then, think of this
    Back in '76,
    Chances were that I wouldn't, either.

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