I love the game of golf. I love the paradox of its simple complexity. I love the way it challenges my inner demons. I love the fact that the golf course is the one place where I am extremely patient with myself (not so patient when idiots ignore the etiquette of the game). As an actor who prides himself on being in control of his body, I am often flummoxed at the way it seems to have a mind of its own (yes, I actually wrote that). There’s a sweet oneness with nature, with the universe even, which makes my blood flow more evenly.
But I hate almost everything about the smug culture that surrounds this magnificent game—the exclusionary attitudes of those putative custodians of this game that emerged from country clubs and the upper echelons of our society to find its way into public links and courses hewed out of cattle pastures. I hate the fact that it costs so much to play it and is therefore denied to so many people.
This week Casey Martin, a golfer born with a degenerative leg disease, came out of the woodwork of Oregon (where he’s the coach of its golf team) to qualify for the US Open. I remember vividly the furor that erupted when he wanted to use a cart to carry him around the course. I remember listening to the “hallowed elder statesmen” of the game hypocritically complain to the Supreme Court that walking was an essential part of the game even as carts were being used on the Senior Tour—yes, they don’t like the term “Senior,” want us to call it the Champions Tour; but they play Senior tees!! Palmer, that smug, self-styled “conscience” of the Tour, went so far as to say that this decision would destroy the game, that we wouldn’t even have the game of golf anymore; Nicklaus said that people would come out of the woodwork with the flimsiest of excuses to use a cart.
Read this wonderful article:
Fourteen years later none of that is true. Casey Martin played professional golf for a couple of years, endured the taunts of ignorant fans (a minority, to be sure), and then disappeared into the mountains of Oregon, only to emerge this year and find himself embraced by millions of fans. The media, replete with spineless cowards with a few exceptions, are hailing him as the “feel-good” story of the year. NOT ONE OF THEM HAS ASKED NICKLAUS AND PALMER, “So—what do you think now, you self-righteous prigs? Has the game gone away? How many people have petitioned for a cart?” The answer to that last question is NONE! NOTTA! ZERO!!
In the first round of the Open, Martin shot a score better than some of the top ten golfers in the world, including the number one and two! That doesn’t really matter. What does, of course, is the culture of the game—from the out-of-touch members at Augusta and their no-women policies (they admitted their first black member in 1990 and used to have a policy requiring all black caddies) to the class divisions it creates! The inherent racism and sexism embedded in the attitudes of country clubs (obviously this extends to other activities) are eloquent echoes of the ills that beset our country. Lurking behind the unconscionable public lynching of Tiger Woods for his marital failings are the demons of our worst natures. Remember, he has had to deal with death threats and hate mail from the time he burst on the national scene!
But the Casey Martin case reminded me that as abhorrent as the PGA Tour and its minions may be, the general public and the millions of hackers playing this game because we love it are not of that ilk. He was always supported by the vast majority of us—his reception at The Olympic Club this week is an eloquent witness to that. Maybe our better angels will conquer the demon powers that be—maybe hope does spring eternal!