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.