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On Wie, putters and who's saying what

5/27/2004

Bob Green, rest his soul, covered golf the way professional golfers
thought the game should be covered. As golf writer for the Associated
Press, Bob wrote about shots and scores and results.

It was clearly a different era in the game's history. Golf has become buzz-driven,
controversy-inspired, issue-orientated and micro-analyzed. Birdies and
bogeys just don't make for good copy anymore.

Michelle Wie, the 14-year-old amateur, gets an exemption to the U.S.
Women's Open. Sounds good to me. Makes for a better Open. Puts more eyes
on women's golf. Allows her to qualify for the Men's Public Links, which
could be an avenue to Augusta. Besides, it wasn't the Men's Open.

Ron Sirak, my colleague and the spirited voice of women's golf for Golf
World, passionately writes in his weekly internet column that the rules
and the spirit of the game have been violated. Somebody needs to put us
on "Pardon The Interruption," so we can yell at each other for 20
seconds before moving on to ...

Long putters! The cover of this week's Golf World. (Nothing personal,
Steve Flesch.) The hottest subject in golf (before the USGA gave Wie the
freebie), temporarily replacing Tiger and Butch, Tiger and Elin, Tiger
and Hank. If you're a purist, the long putter is legalized cheating.

Ernie Els was asked about Trevor Immelman using a belly putter after his
South African countryman took the opening round lead of the Deutsche
Bank-SAP Open. Knowing the headlines his response would generate on
Fleet Street, Els prefaced his remarks by saying, "Here we go." Then he
strongly stated the putter should be banned because nerves are part of
the game. "You know," Els said, "take a tablet if you can't handle it."

Beta Blockers was the controversy over a decade ago, but Ernie popping
off certainly beat details of Immelman's 65 and became theme for the
week. Immelman went super sensitive after winning Sunday. He thought it
was "controversial" when a writer asked him if he were going to play
more in the United States. It sounded like he needed one of those
tablets.

So did Craig Parry after Johnny Miller said he swung "like a
15-handicapper." Nobody talks more golf smack than Johnny, who has
become the Charles Barkley of golf by speaking his mind and not worrying
about the political consequences.

Recently, Barkley told Bob Verdi (Golf World, May 21, 2004) that he'd
like to see Tiger Woods take a stronger stand on issues. Well, Tiger
recently did, rebuking grand old Colonial, a bandbox of a golf course
where the doglegs are 225 yards out (slight exaggeration) and he'd only
hit driver twice (maybe a reason why he should play).

For that momentary lapse of glibness, Tiger spent the week as golf's
whipping post. Loyalists of old-style design and Texas tradition rushed
to the defense of sacred Hogan's Alley. Imagine what the feedback would
be like if Tiger used his fame to deliver messages on some of the
world's more important problems. That's why Tiger will probably not
become to this volatile world what Ali was to Barkley's generation. It's
just not worth it.

The game has grown (thanks to Tiger), and media coverage has grown
exponentially with it. Hootie and Martha, then Annika and Vijay
dominated the first half of last year. Phil Mickelson mentioned
"inferior equipment," and you would have thought he was taking a shot at
Tiger's family. It's why Mickelson goes with the stock answer instead of
the spontaneous "Real Phil" he showed Letterman, Leno and Kilborn.

At the Byron Nelson, I asked Phil to explain this.

"On the record, or off," he said.

Phil's decided to go John Kerry. Talk a lot. Say nothing. Let the other
guys make the mistakes. It's the safe play.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine

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