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May 14, 2013

Primus Mootry: Confessions of a weekend golfer

ANDERSON, Ind. — They say if you don’t like the weather around here, just stick around. I was all set to play golf this weekend. Cleaned my clubs. Polished my golf shoes. Got a good night’s sleep, and woke up in Antarctica. No golf.

So I stayed in and watched it on television. It was the Players Tournament at a treacherous Ponte Vedra, Florida course called TPC Sawgrass. Each year, many of the greatest golfers in the world compete there for even third-place money. The total purse is more than most of us common folk can even imagine.

That aside, golf is still golf. A treacherous game. A game of ingrates. An unfair game. On one Sawgrass hole, one of those great golfers took a mighty swing and completely missed the ball — whiffed it.

To make this understandable to non-golfers, imagine Michael Jordan at the free throw line, taking his shot, and missing the whole back board. Unthinkable.

Another top golfer (No. 15 in the whole world, I think) got mad at Tiger Woods. His name is Sergio Garcia. To make a long story short, the crowd cheered as Tiger pulled a club from his bag during nearby Garcia’s backswing.

After the round, Garcia kinda, sorta said Tiger’s move was calculated to distract him. I can’t remember exactly what Tiger said about it, but the sense of his reply would be unprintable. It was a verbal fight. The golf announcers loved it.

On the final day of the tournament, while I was still holed up in the house to protect myself from last weekend’s weather, Garcia hit two balls in the water and lost any chance at winning. But Tiger coolly went on to win the thing (and the nearly $2 million first-place money).

Anyway, the incident got me to thinking about the days when Tiger first emerged on the professional golf circuit. In spite of (or because of) his spectacular wins, he became a hated man.

Announcers hated him. Other players hated him. The crowds booed him. Tournament organizers despised him, openly talking of “Tiger-proofing” pro courses.

From all I can figure, over the years they stopped talking about it and did it. Or at least they tried. I have no proof of this other than a couple of facts.

First, they studied every aspect of Tiger Woods’ swing, swing tendencies, and overall play. Based on this information, practically every course on the pro tour was re-designed.

Second, by lengthening holes, shortening holes, planting trees where there were none, putting in sand traps, and so forth, they changed the game from one that favored long hitters (Tiger) to a game of short shots, chipping and putting.

As a result, players we never heard of and likely will never hear of again have been winning tournaments. In the meantime, well publicized physical health and marital woes derailed Tiger for a couple of years.

But he’s back, and all the “Tiger-proofing” in the world has not stopped him from again becoming the Numero Uno golfer in the world. What he proved at Sawgrass last weekend is that he could adapt his game to any course changes designed to neutralize his considerable strengths.

And so, as I sat in my man cave chair sipping coffee and watching Tiger dismantle a posse of top notch competitors, I wondered. Why is this man hated?

That’s right. Not too long ago, a presumably reputable polling group reported that the most hated athletes in America were Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Now I can understand hating LeBron. He left cold Cleveland for, of all places, sunny Miami! And that Bryant fellow, well, he is an arrogant, mean-spirited, high-scoring basketball legend. It’s easy to hate the guy.

But Tiger? We all know of his marital infidelities. But in his profession, what has he done but win? What has he done but elevate the entire game of golf? What? Help make golfers we never heard of get rich?

I think I know. It’s his smile. All he does is smile and talk about how wonderful golf is. I saw the movie “42.” Jackie Robinson smiled a lot, too. And let’s not forget about another hated pro baseball player, Hank Aaron. He broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record.

It’s easy to hate those guys. Wealthy. Super-talented. Famous. Winners. After all, this is a free country. We’re free to love or hate anyone we choose.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.

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