American Beauty, or Beauty and the Xenophobic Golf Media, or Phil vs. Kaymer

I could write with full confidence a lengthy essay on the various elements of beauty of Azahara Munoz or Hee-Kyung Seo or Michelle Wie or any number of other LPGA Tour players. I could make precise distinctions, as I see it, between “cute” and “pretty” and “beautiful.”

When it comes to men, I am basically guessing. I grew up thinking guys like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler were beautiful/handsome because they attracted so many great-looking women; now I feel certain they would have had far less luck if they’d been working-class cab drivers instead of wealthy and famous musical performers. I’ve gotten better at guessing as I’ve grown older, but I’m still just guessing. I figure a guy like Webb Simpson is handsome mainly because he has such a beautiful wife, whom he married when young and not yet a star on the PGA Tour.

I bring this up because I am trying to understand how the golf media decides who is worthy of obsessive attention and praise and who is not. Consider Dustin Johnson. To me he’s always been “just another Tour player,” but one cannot help but notice he is a favorite of the media, far beyond what his actual results on the golf course would warrant. He has been linked to one or more of the prettier American LPGA players and is now married to the not-unattractive daughter of Wayne Gretsky, so I speculate the golf media finds him “handsome” and therefore might find him useful in “growing the game.” I will leave the call to my female and gay readers and move on.

When it comes to golf media attention, I am not so naive as to think physical attractiveness does not play a part. But there’s more to it. Winning helps. A lot. So too does being “interesting,” as long as it is in a media-approved, i.e., bland, way. If you are truly interesting, like Ian Poulter, you’ll have to settle for being a media “villain.”

Enough meandering, let me get to my point: I am starting to think, in the eyes of the American golf media, no foreign player can really be attractive. Our golf media has become xenophobic. Let’s take a look.

Consider Phil Mickelson. Along with the multitudes of “Tiger is at the End” articles we are seeing, we’ve been inundated with nearly as many “So is Phil” articles. Often the two are combined into one article along the lines of, “American Golf is at the End,” or “Good Era Over, Bad Era Coming.”

Enter Martin Kaymer. Let’s compare him to Phil Mickelson at the same age.

Wins:
Kaymer: 12 in 8 years
Mickelson: 13 in 8 years (his amateur win, which I counted, actually
predated those 8 years)

Majors:
Kaymer: 2 in 8 years
Mickelson: 0 in 8 years (was still 0 at 12 years)

Players Championships:
Kaymer: won at age 29
Mickelson: won at age 36

There’s more to the matter than golf results, I know, but come on. Kaymer had two majors and a Players before age 30; Mickelson had none. Their win totals were about the same. Why is it that Kaymer is presented by the American golf media, reluctantly, as a kind-of-good player but Mickelson as if he were one of golf’s Mount Rushmore figures?

Then there’s Michelle Wie. She has always gotten attention well beyond her actual performance (Did she ever even make a cut playing men’s tour events?) She seems to be a fine young woman, and her game is finally jelling, but the American golf media so wants to make her the star of the show that they short-change golfers such as Lydia Ko, who is actually doing the things at a young age we were told Michelle Wie was going to do. Ko gets her fair share of attention, but still it is dwarfed by the attention Wie got at that age, and gets even today. It is clear from tournament broadcasts and discussions on Golf Channel that the American golf media is still invested in the idea of Michelle Wie becoming the star of the LPGA. The star-making machinery behind the popular golfer, I suppose.

Then there’s Rory McIlroy, the greatest golfer since at least Jack Nicklaus. He’s riding a 2-major win streak and is favored to win at Augusta. If he wins the Masters in April, he’ll actually be ahead of Jack’s pace for winning majors. The story of Rory’s bounceback in 2010 from Masters meltdown to U.S. Open runaway is the stuff of movies, equal to the all-time greatest stories in golf history. If you want to compare him to Tiger Woods — whose career we now know was very much front-loaded — Woods had 8 majors at age 29. Rory has 4 at age 25. Very likely Rory will be around Woods’s number come 2019. We were told Woods was the Chosen One from the day he won his first major. Rory, with four, is chopped liver.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that, in the eyes of the American golf media, if you ain’t American, you ain’t beautiful.

This is sad, and a step backward. Thirty years ago, Australian Greg Norman was far and away the most popular golfer in the world and in the United States.

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12 Responses to American Beauty, or Beauty and the Xenophobic Golf Media, or Phil vs. Kaymer

  1. Dave Bayko says:

    I like Kaymer, but he doesn’t have a good enough short game around the greens as Michelson and probably will never win a Masters .

  2. JoseyWales says:

    “The star-making machinery behind the popular golfer”
    Lanny going all Joni Mitchell on us…lol.

  3. JoseyWales says:

    You really should have included Natalie Gulbis in your examples.

  4. Sports-realist says:

    Not really a shock to me….if you look how ESPN tends to cover the ‘national enquirer-esque’ style of stories, it comes down to sex appeal, gender, color, and American apple pie…Your examples:
    1.Wie—I guess it was time to HAIL the women in golf, and she was so young and somewhat attractive…Had she been the typical 200 pounder, well, you know..
    2.Johnson—Similar to Daly of the 90’s, where his length off the tee fascinates still today…
    3.Woods–combination of color and age, but DEFINITELY color was a major factor….Jim Nance’s ‘win for the ages’ was definitely attributed to his skin color, and the media just loves those stories.
    4. Mickelson—Sure he’s kinda overrrated, but let’s face it, most of the hopefuls out of his time period didn’t do much, and his late charge of majors definitely put him on the map….
    5. Rory—This is interesting, because is it mainly due to NOT being an American, as 4 majors isn’t enough to gain their main attention….It would be interesting if Rory looked like a model, instead of an avg looking guy….We’d probably be amazed at how they’d be swooning, and show the shallowness of humanity ect…..Rory hits it as far as anyone, and he’s more accurate than any of the longer hitters, already has 4 majors, with more to come.. Even went through a break up, equipment change, and all the other TOUTED ‘soap opera’ stuff that the golfchannel loves to talk about, when it’s that other guy…..

  5. Ken says:

    Phil is over-hyped now. Since 2010, he hasn’t been a big winner. 2013 was his only multiple-win season since 2009, otherwise he’s one win a year except for his winless 2014. But it’s hard to argue with some of the Phil hype with his top-ten all-time in wins record.

    Kaymer doesn’t get the attention he deserves, not even close. A sometimes-dominant player who already has two majors. But I really don’t remember Phil being that hyped when he was that age either. I don’t think that the Kaymer/Mickelson attention comparison is all that accurate. Phil is hyped now from the perspective of looking back over an amazing career. It’s not Phil 13 wins vs. Kaymer 12 wins. It’s Phil 42 wins vs. Kaymer 12 wins. It took a while for Mickelson to get to his level of publicity. I think that he’s legitimately looked at as one of the game’s Rushmore figures, but that’s from the perspective of looking back of what is nearly his complete career.

    Like him or not, Phil is gregarious and draws attention. It doesn’t help Kaymer that he’s about as laconic as you can get. Billy Casper didn’t get the Palmer hype for the same reason.

    • lannyh says:

      Another thing about Casper, though… He was not one of the Big Three (Four). Why not? Well, Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus all signed with IMG. Casper refused. I just heard that factoid in the aftermath of Casper’s death. Maybe it’s not as simple as that, but it does show how, just like now, the monied interests have a lot of say in the narratives of the day.

      The Kaymer-Mickelson thing was my way of discrediting the current narrative that “greats” Tiger and Phil are leaving, woe be to us. Phil may well have a personality the media likes, but the idea of him as a “great” was one that came late in his career. He was best known for NOT winning majors and a sometimes shakey putter. It’s like there is this idea in the media now that if a 24-year-old doesn’t have as many wins and majors as guys at age 40, they “suck.” There was a guy — a paid sportswriter collecting a check and getting benefits — who did a smackdown on how bad the Tournament of Champions is now. He based it on how many majors the participants had in 2001 (or so). However, he counted all the future majors the players would win. As it turned out, I believe there were more majors in this year’s Tournament of Champions. In his zest to criticize current golf, he made a terrible logical mistake.

      • Ken says:

        I saw your analysis of the TOC, which was good stuff.

        Casper not being with IMG was a big part of his lack of recognition. MacCormack and Palmer were PR geniuses. Billy was just so low key though. He seemed a nice, gentle man in his later interviews. Not a great interview, but you just liked him.

      • lannyh says:

        I didn’t know the story of his childhood until last week. Made a real impression on me. I might have to grab a biography about him and learn more.

  6. Ken says:

    I need to get that book Casper wrote, “The Big Three and Me.”

    “The Big Three” was one of the best marketing campaigns ever. Of course 34 majors (37 if you count US Amateurs, which meant more in those days) didn’t hurt. But they had the perfect mix of personalities. You had the charismatic King of golf, blue collar background, the everyman. The upstart to the throne from Ohio, a country club guy with the perfect swing (Nicklaus came from a middle class family, but portraying him as rich made for better press). And in Player, the gentlemanly foreign interloper with the gritty, tenacious game and cool accent. It was just a fortuitous convergence of talent that IMG, MacCormack, and Palmer exploited to the hilt.

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