Wednesday Thoughts: Race and Golf

Race and Golf:  I am tired of ignorant people who repeat the popular (and often political) memes of the day as if they are inviolable truths.  Problem is, those people are everywhere, and they never shut up.

Maybe it’s always been like that, I don’t know.  I’m no historian, or philosopher, or psychologist.  But neither am I stupid, and while some humans are blessed with people skills, I’ve been cursed with pattern skills.  That comes in handy for mathematics and logic but is not much in demand for today’s wonderful world of happy-talk propaganda, where if you don’t go along, it’s because you are hate-filled.

I avoid the world of politics, other than as an amused spectator.  I can’t tolerate the Democrats or Republicans either one.  I think for myself.  I will never let others think for me so I can join their “party.”

And now I’m going to think for myself and write about a touchy subject: race.  Specifically, race in golf.  Half the world will think, “You tell ’em, Lanny!  The real problem is those damned minorities!”  The other half will think, “Lanny, you are racist for even bringing up the topic of race.”

Be that as it may, I want to address some oddities in the prevailing narratives about race and golf.

For many, perhaps most, race has been the defining characteristic of Tiger Woods’s golf career.  We were told this is because golf has always been such “a racist sport.”

The facts, however, don’t match that narrative.  Country clubs, with or without golf courses, have always been exclusive.  That is obvious.  And while many of them certainly did have policies that could be labeled racist, those clubs were exclusive based on wealth far more than anything else.  White people who grew up poor or middle class were not welcome at those country clubs, either.

But even if you subscribe to the “golf is racist” narrative, those days were long gone by the time Tiger Woods joined the Tour.  In fact, there was far more black Tour players in the 1970’s.  Woods has almost always been the sole black player on Tour, whereas in the 1970’s, there were often as many as a dozen.  After Lee Elder played at the Masters, black Tour golfers were just Tour golfers.

Nevertheless, the media, for their own purposes, insisted Tiger Woods was “breaking down doors.”  When he won, he was “kicking down doors.”  Of course the doors had been taken down a quarter of a century before Woods, but why let that ruin the media’s controversial political narrative.  Just ignore it, as Nike might say.

Still, something has always puzzled me.  Why was there never a similar discussion for a guy like Vijay Singh?  Vijay, whose skin is quite dark, was never a “golfer of color.”  He was simply a golfer, no different from any other golfer on Tour.  Golf has long been a world game, and people who look/speak/dress/eat differently is scarcely worthy of notice.

So why is race the defining characteristic of Woods — and since the scandals, it’s only gotten more so — but with a player like Jason Day, it’s not even mentioned.  Day’s PGA Championship win is not touted as the “first major won by an Asian.”  It’s touted as Jason Day’s first major.  The guy who collapsed on the 54th hole of the U.S. Open, then got up and completed the hole.  And, by the way, is Day Asian or is he Pacific Islander?  Or is he Irish?  The point is, no one cares.  Golf was worldwide long before the NBA started scouring Europe for power forwards.  T.C. Chen.  Calvin Peete.  Chi Chi Rodriguez.  Lee Elder.  Jumbo Ozaki.  Aussies, Scots, Spaniards, South Americans, South Africans.  Lee Trevino was labeled “Super Mex,” and no one spent time trying to figure out a way that tag could be termed racist.

When Rickie Fowler first gained renown, his heritage was mentioned.  I got the impression he had some Native American blood in him, but that’s about all I remember.  He is just “Rickie Fowler” to golf fans.  There is no need to pigeonhole him as some race or other in order to push an agenda.

In fairness to Woods, he didn’t create the narrative.  His “Cablinasian” comment was clearly an attempt to get people to move on.  However, the decision was not really Woods’s.  Once Nike started with their “I am Tiger Woods” campaign, stressing his “multicultural-ness,” the narrative was written, and the golf media was too weak and inept to set the record straight.

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9 Responses to Wednesday Thoughts: Race and Golf

  1. HennyB says:

    Well said Lanny. It’s funny how the golfing world has failed to point out how many minorities were on the tour back then. I get so sick and tired of the golfing world giving Woods credit for just about everything that has ever taken place in the game of golf. I also agree with your premise, nobody cares about race or color anymore, they are simply looked at as golfers.

  2. Sports-realist. says:

    …….Years ago, there was an analyst on ESPN who talked about Donovan Mcnabb: “overrated … what we have here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well—black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well.”
    “There’s a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”
    …….Those few statements ended the analysts time at ESPN….Ofcourse we know who that was, but if you leave the statements FACELESS, you look at it, and say ‘yep, that person was right all along’….If Donovan was a white qb, you could be honest and say anything you wanted, without any repercussions…
    …….Who is this MEDIA anyway? Who are these communists bafoons who believe they can tell us what you can and cannot say? When you look at ESPN and NBC, it’s really not hard to figure out….

    • lannyh says:

      That whole Rush Limbaugh thing seems kind of surreal in hindsight. They brought in a guy known for saying incendiary things, and when he said something incendiary, they jettisoned him. I guess what they wanted was for Limbaugh to bring his name, but act like a production-line, generic Chris Berman understudy.

      I thought Limbaugh went overboard, but maybe that’s what he thought he was hired to do. It was a publicity stunt that backfired on all of them. (There was something of a situation where it WAS a white player who was criticized the same way, and there was a backlash. Isaiah Thomas made a similar remark about Larry Bird — if he weren’t white, he’d be just another good guy — and it really hit the fan. I always thought Thomas’s claim was worthy of examination and debate, but such topics are off-limits.)

      There might have been some truth to what Rush said, but, on the other hand, there’s always flavor-of-the-year players who get more hype than deserved. But none of the other ESPN people were willing to take that side of the argument (at least not that I recall). I think everyone involved blew it, but it’s certainly an interesting episode to look back on.

      (Imagine if Al Sharpton were hired to be a football analyst and ranted about the “racist” Washington Redskins team name. Or, for that matter, Bob Costas’s gun control speech a few years back. There’s definitely a difference between fearless, insightful commentary and political talking points.)

  3. benchrat says:

    discrimination is everywhere. isn’t everyone on earth being subject to unfair discrimination on a daily basis for something or other, whether it be race, gender or religion, financial status or political affiliation, or a myriad of other factors people commonly identify themselves with. but at least in american culture, we have arrived at a place where not only is discrimination perceived as a very bad word or action (which it certainly isn’t), but is largely associated with the plight and skin color of african americans.
    no other group comes close to claiming they have it so bad, so often, when in fact others do have it just as bad or worse, if we are willing to look at ourselves and others as individuals and not a group, discrimination is a part of life for everyone.
    this is the mentality that spurs someone to say something like ‘ tiger has broken the barrier’.
    no. he hasn’t. if you want to say someone has broken the barrier, be honest about it and give rosa parks your respect. woods is an extremely fortunate individual who doesn’t need sympathy from anyone.

    /end rant/

    • lannyh says:

      Looks are a huge thing, too. For all the “diversity” among cable news anchors, the next homely person they hire will be the first one.

      • benchrat says:

        ikr? why aren’t there ugly people coalitions forming and petitioning the government to give them their fair share? free personality training, free cosmetics, fast track to anchor jobs. homelies are people too! and they don’t want to be called ‘ugly’ anymore. it’s demeaning. ugly-shaming. lols.

  4. HennyB says:

    That’s a really good point! That sort of thing never dawned on me.

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