A thought struck me on the side of the head the other day and like most of the other ones, it bounced off harmlessly into my subconscious. The thing is, this one keeps bouncing back.
It appears to me that shortly after I quit playing competitive golf, the professionals started playing for a lot more money. It's probably a coincidence, but I have to admit I'm a little worried.
Call me old-fashioned (or insanely jealous), but I fear these new-found riches may lead those who love to play or watch our glorious game down the dimly lit and treacherous path that leads to the kind of behavior -- both from players and fans -- that plagues other, less noble pastimes. I'm sorry if that wasn't pompous enough for you, but it's the best I can do.
Actually, wait a minute. Maybe it isn't. Why, the pursuit of legal tender shouldn't be the motivating factor here. Surely we should strive to keep sacred those reasons that first lured most of us to the links. Like avoiding the car-pool line, the chance to lurk in a smoky bar telling lies when one's spouse is under the impression that one is engaged in a healthy pastime. And, of course, the opportunity to deliberately lose to someone whose business one's interest may be vested in.
Wouldn't you know it, but we're back to money again. I'm starting to understand how this happened. Perhaps it's just evolution, but even if it is, we must resist, for fear the entire species may mutate, given the dog-eat-dog nature of the game, into clones of either Donald Trump or Mother Teresa. Don't laugh. Think of the children.
I have personally witnessed the power that the mighty greenback can wield over those who are ill-prepared for the burden that comes with it. At the Sarazen World Open a couple of years ago, I had the responsibility of coaching a mild-mannered member of the public to make one attempt at a 25-foot putt for $1 million.
In front of cameras and a large crowd, I showed him the line and the speed, but when it came his turn, his every orifice dilated and his left wrist went into thermoplastic meltdown. That was no stroke; it was a heart attack.
We all know that money corrupts and Lord knows there's a lot of it in this country. In the five years I have lived here, up until now I have been reluctant to criticize American sports, mostly because I love nearly all of them -- except basketball. Players sign $100 million contracts to put a ball through a hole in the air. That's too weird even for me. I firmly believe that every hole should have a bottom.
I remember watching my first college basketball game and being totally horrified by the fan behavior when one of the opposing teams stepped up to the free throw line. Everyone behind the basket started waving big wiggly things and shouting, "MISS! MISS! MISS!"
Speaking for myself, I've only done that once and that was in my third grade classroom. I was desperate for the bathroom.
OK, I feel a rant coming on. Will someone please ex-plain to me what this kneeling down business at the end of a football game is about? Surely, you should be forced to play the ball. We're talking about men who play with the strength and courage of superheroes, unless they're a point in front with 60 seconds to go, in which case they fall on the ball like giggling girl scouts.
If you applied that rule to golf, instead of having to play the 72d hole at Augusta, you could put the ball in your pocket and walk straight to Butler Cabin.
Growing up, I played rugby. I never got the chance to play either Gaelic football or hurling, although I did do my fair share of the latter after playing rugby. I've always enjoyed sports in which the object is to seriously injure your opponent while trying to avoid possession of the ball. At least that's the way I played. My golf looked much the same way, except the opponent I was trying injure was me.
The only violence you will see at a rugby match is on the field, which separates it from its much more popular rivals, soccer and Little League baseball. Rugby is a hooligans' sport played by gentlemen and soccer is, well, the other way around and the fans act likewise.
My problem with soccer is that the players cheat and this behavior has become an accepted part of the game. They dive after being tackled and claim possession of the ball no matter how obviously it belongs to the other team. Sort of like pro basketball, if you ask me.
Imagine these ethics in golf. You'd need a third pocket with a golf ball-sized hole in it.
Golf is diametrically opposed to most other sports when it comes to crowd behavior because it's the events where no money is involved where we have the most trouble. The Ryder-Solheim Cup affliction seems to occasionally rob a player of his sense of fair play. I hope this doesn't creep into the game's mainstream because ugly crowd behavior usually follows ugly player behavior.
Players once cruised gracefully across oceans in steamships, giving lessons to elderly widows in between tournaments. They now whiz across the hemisphere in private jets and build golf courses while they chat on their cell phones during practice rounds, pausing only to re-light their cigars.
That's why I've decided to rededicate myself and work tirelessly toward the salvation of what's left of our game before it's too late. I shall charge bravely at the enemy, thrusting my microphone right up the orifice of avarice and with my free hand I shall grab the gonads of greed.
While I live and breathe, the game of golf shall never be allowed to sink to the depths of these wars that used to be games, until we and television made them so life-and-deathly serious.
People seem to have forgotten for one reason or another that the pastime they're watching is meant to be a playful diversion -- or fun, like a game, maybe.
If I should lose my battle, golf as we know it will be lost forever and I would surely find myself unable to do my job, my spirit broken, my life devoid of meaning.
Unless, of course, my game comes back around. In that case, to hell with the rest of you. I'm going for the gold.