Piece of Trash

A recent story about an upcoming golfing event struck me as most interesting. As we are told:

Vijay Singh is apparently going to participate in the Korn Ferry Challenge — the first Korn Ferry Tour event of the revised season after the COVID-19 hiatus — next month at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

That move, though, didn’t sit well with at least one other professional golfer, who called Singh “a piece of trash” on Twitter after seeing his name on the list of participants.

Now Vijay Singh, for those of you who are out of touch with golf, is a very wealthy professional golfer who has been playing golf for many years  and decided to crash the Korn Ferry Challenge to tune up his game for an upcoming PGA event. The Korn Ferry tour is something like the minor leagues in baseball — except the players are not paid a salary and must rely on winnings to make ends meet. These are mostly young players who hope one day to play on the much more lucrative PGA tour. In the meantime they play off the stage and out of the spotlight for peanuts.

To get an idea of the vast difference in the size of the purses on the two tours, we might note that the total purse of a single Korn Ferry event is $1 million, with $180,000 going to the winner and the rest of the field receiving proportionally less. By contrast, the total purse on the PGA Championship is $11 million with $1.98  going to the winner — nearly twice as much as the entire purse on a typical Korn Ferry event.

I listened to a discussion of this story on the Golf Channel and it was intriguing. While one of the talking heads, a young woman, defended the young player for trashing Singh another older player defended him on the grounds that there is no rule against his playing and it’s “just how things are.”

The young woman reminded him that during these last couple of months the golfers have all gone without any income whatever and while the very wealthy ones at the top can make do (!) those at the bottom — like those on the Korn Ferry tour, must take other jobs to pay the bills. Many of them have families with young children. Singh is older and very wealthy and, so far as I know, does not have young mouths to feed.

What intrigues me about this is the fact that someone (anyone) could defend Singh for basically elbowing his way into the tournament! And, given that there is a limited number of players who can play the Challenge, he takes the place of a younger player who truly needs the money he might make by winning the tournament — or even placing high in the final standings.

Is it possible that this man doesn’t see the moral problem here? He says Singh is not breaking the rules, and this is true. But doing the right thing is often a matter of ignoring the rules. What we have here is another example of a very wealthy man who fails to recognize the plight of others who are in need.

It makes me just a little bit sick.

Lydia Ko

 Lydia Ko (Thanks to Wikipedia)

Lydia Ko
(Thanks to Wikipedia)

You have probably never heard of her even though she’s the best golfer in the world, male or female; yet we never hear about her exploits.  In fact, as we are told,

On 2 February 2015, [Lydia] became the youngest player of either gender to ever be ranked No. 1 in professional golf by both the Official World Golf Ranking and the Rolex World Golf Ranking at age 17 years, 9 months and 9 days, eclipsing Tiger Woods who was 21 years, 5 months and 15 days when he became men’s world number one in 1997 and Jiyai Shin who was 22 years and 5 days when she became women’s world number one in 2010.

And yet, again, despite the fact that she has won more times than Tiger Woods did at her age you have probably never heard of her. She seldom gets attention on the large stage of ESPN while every time Tiger Woods stubs his toe it gets headlines. When Charlie Rymer — a former PGA golfer and now a commentator on the Golf Channel — was asked why Lydia wasn’t better known, he hemmed and hawed (as is his habit) and totally failed to answer the question — which is simple: she is a woman. Moreover, she is not American. No matter how gifted she is, and she is regarded by those in the know as the most gifted golfer currently playing the game, she will be widely ignored, not only for the reasons given, but also because she isn’t brash enough. She doesn’t howl  like a wolf and pump her fist when she sinks a putt — as Tiger used to do — or pout when she has a bad day. She lifts her chin and walks to the next tee box and prepares to play. She is a delight, but she doesn’t “sell” to an American audience that wants its athletes to emote loudly and graphically and, if possible, show their vulnerability.

There are a number of factors involved in what might be called the “Ko phenomenon.” I have mentioned the obvious, but there is also the distinct possibility that race plays a part. After all, Ko is a New Zealander of Korean extraction who doesn’t look like the girl next door. And she plays a woman’s game. Even the Golf Channel, which is devoted solely to golf, broadcasts very few hours of women’s golf in a day. It is usually after the main PGA event of the day and is usually cut off for (wait for it) REPLAYS of the men’s event during the prime viewing hours. The major networks seldom bother with any but the major events, which are few in number.  As I said, ESPN seldom even mentions her name and even Sports Illustrated tends to bury her achievements deep in its pages, usually as an afterthought — if they bother to mention her at all.

As one who coached both men’s and women’s tennis for years, I can attest to the bias that exists in this country against women’s sports. In some cases, such as basketball for example, there is a marked difference in ability between the men who play for pay and the women who imitate them as much as possible both in apparel and type of play. Perhaps because of the different skill levels the audience for women’s basketball is meager at best and the women’s professional league struggles to keep its financial head above water. But in tennis and golf, the athletic gap is not that great. Though they don’t hit the ball as hard or as far, women play an exciting brand of both tennis and golf and while women’s tennis at the highest levels gets some semblance of the respect it deserves — and even gets equal pay in the main events —  women’s golf, where the players are exciting to watch and every bit as good as the men, is largely ignored. And, like the women’s soccer team, their remuneration is something of a joke when compared with that of the men.

When one seeks for causes of this phenomenon one comes up with the types of reasons I have given above. But, in the end, the habit of the media to ignore athletes like Lydia Ko may be the reason so few have heard of her. That is to say, the entertainment industry hasn’t yet figured out how to market young women who play a game at the highest level but who seem happy and well-adjusted (they smile, can you imagine?) and not given to histrionics. The entertainment industry wants sensational, viewer-grabbing moments, preferably with tears and perhaps even violence, if possible. Golf generally fails, though the men have found a way to make it more interesting by looking more intense (they seldom smile) and waiving their fists at every opportunity. Not the women. And that seems to be the heart of the problem.

Rules Or No Rules?

The issue of slow play in golf raises an interesting philosophical question. Really. A recent article in USA Today  informs us that the issue is not new and is getting worse.

That’s the general consensus as the pace of play has reared its unhurried head in the last two weeks. In the PGA Tour‘s showcase event, the May 10-13 Players Championship, Kevin Na caused a slow burn for fans around the world as he took hundreds of waggles and regularly backed off shots. He even purposely whiffed so he could start over as he struggled with inner demons that wouldn’t allow him to get comfortable.

Last week, Morgan Pressel was assessed a slow-play penalty that cost her a hole in a semifinal bout with Azahara Munoz in the Sybase Match Play Championship, turning a commanding 3-up lead with six holes to play into a 1-up advantage she eventually lost.

It is true that watching golf on TV (I have never attended a tournament myself) is like watching grass grow — in a drought. And the average golfer is mimicking the pros not only in dress but also in behavior, causing slow play on the nation’s golf courses.  If I thought that the professionals were taking extra time over their ball to ponder the moral implications of playing a game for millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements while so many of their fellow citizens live in poverty, I would not complain so loudly. But I somehow doubt that this is the case. Nonetheless, while hardly a major issue, slow play is an interesting one.

I say that because sports are one of the few places in our society where rules still apply and when people openly flaunt the rules of golf, in this case, it is somewhat disquieting. After all, there are rules governing pace of play in golf and players at the professional level have been “put on the clock” more than once. But seldom, especially in the men’s game, have any penalties been levied — not even financial penalties even though the players are making millions of dollars.

On the women’s side, the rules were recently enforced against Morgan Pressel, as the article mentions. And it created a flurry of discussion on Golf Channel later on — for several hours. Should she have been penalized, given the fact that she had been warned twice about her pace of play and didn’t show any signs of quickening her pace? Those who defend her talked about the money she stood to lose by, in effect, being ruled out of the match-play tournament. But this is irrelevant — even though Tiger Woods used the same argument to insist that something should be done in the men’s game, but not anything that will cost anyone money. Dismissing stroke penalties, Woods said, “Strokes (cost) money. People don’t realize how valuable one shot out here is.” Really now, have we come to this? Is prize money the sole consideration here? It seems clear that when a rule is broken and warnings have been delivered, a penalty should be enforced — and it should be a stiff penalty. If not money in the form of a fine (which many of these players could pay with the small change in their pockets) then taking strokes away from them, which will indeed cost the players both large sums of money and quite possibly the prestige of winning.

I applaud the LPGA in their attempt to move the game along by enforcing reasonable rules. And I fault the PGA for mouthing platitudes and refusing to apply the same rules against the men who can take five or six hours to play 18 holes of golf these days. Not only does it make for boring TV — which one can always turn off — but it does lead to imitation by amateurs. But, above all else, it is a rule. And in sports rules should be enforced or they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. The lack of enforcement of rules reduces the value of sports in our culture to the level of simply another business endeavor where rules are broken every day in the name of larger profits. But, then, perhaps that is where we have arrived.