I'm at birthday party last weekend for my friend's 5-year old and his buddies find out I'm sports writer. Some nondescript LPGA championship is playing on the TV with no sound and one of the fathers tells to me how Lorena Ochoa ought to get more recognition. Another asks me if I think Tiger Woods will pass Jack Nicklaus' hallowed record of winning 18 professional majors - after all, Tiger's halfway there. So I jiggled the ice in my glass and offered a seasoned perspective: "Seriously guys, do you really consider golfers to be athletes?" I was friendless for the rest of the afternoon.
Are golfers athletes? Ichiro Suzuki, the fleet Seattle Mariners outfielder, commented on Tiger's Wood's athleticism last spring in USA Today: "Tiger is a great golfer, but ... when you say athlete, I think of Carl Lewis. When you talk about (golfers or race-car drivers), I don't want to see them run. It's the same if you were to meet a beautiful girl and go bowling. If she's an ugly bowler, you are going to be disappointed." I'll have to ponder the "ugly bowler" analogy a little longer but I think Ichiro raises a larger question: Is golf a sport?
Golf does not even rise to the level of "a good walk spoiled" because the primary action of walking is not required. So says PGA Tour v. Martin (2001) where the Supreme Court ordered the PGA to allow disabled golfer Casey Martin to use a golf cart in between holes rather than walk. The Court supported its decision by finding that whether a golfer walks between holes does not "fundamentally alter the nature" of the game. How can you call something a sport where being ambulatory is not a basic minimum physical requirement?
A "sport" requires athleticism. Athletes are people who demonstrate superior physical skill in the areas of strength, agility and stamina. Think of the mythological gods and heroes who personified the highest physical virtues: Hermes (speed), Hercules (strength), Aphrodite (stamina). There's got to be at least some running to call it a sport. I'd prefer some contact, too. But "no walking required"? You call that a sport?
Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's a sport. Computer programming and brain surgery are difficult. They are not sports. Just because you compete doesn't make it a sport either. Pretzel vendors compete. Art galleries compete. Hell, a spelling bee is a competition. Golf is recreation--something to pass the time. It is no more a sport than marbles or cat's cradle.
That takes me to my final point: Golf is boring. You want to get a nap in on Sunday afternoon? Turn on golf. Looking for that TV show to help the kids get some shut-eye? Turn on golf. Do you want to see the least amount of physical prowess combined with the greatest dearth of raw emotion? Turn on golf.
Not long ago, I listened to a host on talk radio praise Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Pat Sumerall for his ability to call any sport on television -- even golf. "Golf's easy," said Summerall. "Nothing happens."
That, my friends, says it all.