The Content of Golfs Character

By Adam BarrOctober 17, 2003, 4:00 pm
My column last week, which compared the gifts and challenges of being Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, got a lot of e-mail response. Much of it was good, and some of it was constructively critical as well.
Some of those comments touched on racial differences between Palmer and Woods ' not just the obvious difference between Palmer, the Caucasian, and Woods, whose ancestry includes both African-Americans and Asians, but also the differing attitudes about race in the times when each man was at the height of his popularity. Heres an example of the kind of e-mail I received on this issue:
How many golfers of color were there on tour [in 1964]; and how many were allowed to play? A kinder gentler time indeed. Tiger made golf fashionable for the younger players, and more reachable for some of us.
I had never intended to cast the comparison between Palmer and Woods in terms of race. Its commendable in the e-mail correspondents on this issue that they approached what they saw as a flaw in my point of view with extreme respect and politeness, yet with unflagging strength of their convictions. (One writer offered his view, as he put it, in the hope that your minds eye would be broadened. Anyone can stand that sort of correction.)
The responses, juxtaposed as they were with the utterly indefensible remarks Jan Stephenson made last week, got me thinking about racism in golf, and how the noble mixes with the ugly.
Answering a question about problems the LPGA faces in an interview in Golf magazine, Stephenson said, among other things, that the Asians are killing our tour. Absolutely killing it. Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English when they can speak English. They rarely speak. We have two-day pro-ams where people are paying a lot of money to play with us, and they say hello and goodbye. Our tour is predominantly international and the majority of them are Asian. Theyve taken it over.
Fact-checking problems abound here ' I know for a fact that many of the Asian players Stephenson derides speak no more English than I do Korean ' and Annika Sorenstam might have something to say about Asian dominance, unless Sweden moved to Asia in the dead of night. And I defy anyone to travel to a country where they dont speak the language, try to make a living at a difficult sport, and see how sociable they feel.
More problematic, though, is the willingness of a public figure in golf to ascribe what she sees as poor behavior to race and nationality, rather than personality.
If the women Stephenson complains about indeed stiff their pro-am partners, its not because the pro hostesses are Asian. One notable Australian player is famous for her rudeness to reporters and her aloofness in general; clearly shes not Asian. This principle is so obvious that it shouldnt require mention. Its painful that someone who has made a life in the best of games, a game where equality, merit and honor have historically been at the forefront, should need to be told this.
Stephensons spin following the interview didnt help. Of course she said she didnt mean to deride Asians as a racial group. And she may not have. But lunkheaded insults hurt no less than purposeful hate. That is, you dont have to be a career intentional bigot to reveal by careless speech and actions your insensitivity to people who arent like you.
Even more disturbing are the subtle cues within the world of golf that vestiges of discrimination remain. Heres part of another e-mail, in which the writer maintained that Palmer didnt face the societal challenges Woods deals with. After making that point, the writer included a personal note:
I'm someone of an African American background, and for the past three years I've been attending golf matches like the Buick Classic, Greater Hartford Open, the U.S. Open & the PGA Championship. And I tell you, women still clutch their bags a little tighter when I get near them, people shift their belongings to a safer position, or stare at me like I'm doing something wrong. Mr. Barr, I'm as clean-cut as the next guy ' no, let me rephrase that ' I would even go as far as to say that I'm even more clean-cut looking then the next guy. I wear dress slacks, shoes, glasses with a button-down shirt, I speak in a natural soft tone. I even have a big bright smile and people still look at me in fear or like I'm beneath them. So I could only imagine how rough/challenging it was for [Tiger], coming up through the golf ranks. Feeling out of place, because people don't want you there.
And indeed, Woods and his father have told stories of bad behavior toward them on some golf courses in southern California when Tiger was growing up.
You can say as much as you want that the shoddy behavior of fans at tournaments the e-mail writer attended really has nothing to do with golf: They would do the same thing on the subway, at a caf, at a ball game, right? Well, yes. But the fundamental truth is, whatever the reason for this behaviors proximity to golf, it is unworthy of the games nobility. Inside or outside the ropes, one of golfs primary attractions is that it is a meritocracy. Get the ball into the hole in the least strokes, and you win. Thats all. Nowadays, color, national origin, gender ' none of that should matter. I say nowadays because, sadly, it once did matter, and the fact that it did kept huge talents such as Charlie Sifford, the late Althea Gibson and many others from earning their due.
Within reason and without hypersensitivity (and none of my e-mail correspondents on this issue were oversensitive), its time for a zero-tolerance policy on racism, ethnocentrism and sexism in golf. Its the only way to convince the next generation that inclusion is the only way to go.
Golf ' and everyone who loves it ' deserves that.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.