ATLANTA – We often hear this tired refrain, usually decried by hackneyed observers far removed from day-to-day insights into the game: Golfers are boring. They’re vanilla. They’re bland. Never say an interesting word, let alone a controversial one. Never have a strong take from their perch atop the middle of the fence.
This is a stance which has afflicted the game for years, drummed into the heads of golfers who might not have realized how unremarkable they really are. But it’s forced a change. They’ve gradually become more cognizant of it, especially younger players who haven’t been coached up in the language of rhetoric and might be too naïve to be unthoughtful.
What’s happened as a result isn’t quite a revolution, but it is a revelation: These guys are intelligent, own strong opinions and aren’t afraid to let the world hear certain viewpoints. Maybe not on weighty political affairs, but at least on the world as it affects them.
All of which leads us to recent perceived moaning and groaning about the FedEx Cup playoffs and the latest Catch-22 which has ensconced the game.
As it stands, these players – the ones who don’t want to be considered boring or uninteresting or fence-sitters – have been asked about the grind of competing four straight weeks after a grueling season. They are questioned about fatigue and focus. The queries are undoubtedly leading the witnesses.
To their credit, most have spoken their minds. They’ve been completely honest on how they feel about competing so many weeks in a row without so much as a brief respite.
“I'm in desperate need of some rest,” defending FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson said before being ousted from the playoffs. “Of course, it's a little disappointment not making it back. ... It wasn't to be this year, but I finally get a bit of a break. You know, if you got some of the guys who are playing 66 percent of my schedule are worn out and struggling, I guess you can understand that I'm a little bit fatigued as well.”
“Somehow managed to not fall over this week,” Geoff Ogilvy admitted after last week’s BMW Championship. “I'm pretty tired. The altitude wears you out. And this many tournaments in a row wears you out, too. ... To be honest with you, I'm not a hundred percent excited about playing golf next week, but I'm really excited about what making the Tour Championship does for you.”
“It's been a long year, a lot of tournaments,” agreed Sergio Garcia. “A lot of tournaments out there and that also take as little bit out of you. But I can't be disappointed with it.”
It’s not just them, either. From Phil Mickelson taking his ball and going home after two rounds last week to Rory McIlroy lacking so much focus that he four-putted the same green on consecutive days, players’ words are being endorsed by their actions – and vice versa.
This is a decidedly bad look, no matter which way you slice (or hook) it. When your vocation is professional golfer, people don’t like to hear complaints about your vocation very often.
All of which has led to the laymen among us – you know, those unfortunate scamps who don’t have an opportunity to earn millions of dollars this week and haven’t been forced to play golf for the past month without a break – criticizing the criticism.
It’s a fool’s errand, this business of requesting more honesty, then denouncing the comments wrought from such candor. And yet, the never-ending cycle continues, with thoughts on the FedEx Cup serving as the latest example.
It also hints at a perilous future, one which will only reinforce the stereotypes. If players speak their minds on such issues and remain castigated for their honesty, fewer will continue to be so open.
As it relates to this current topic, maybe it won’t matter that much going forward.
“We don't like playing four weeks in a row in the playoffs, either,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in response to the prevailing opinion. “We think in the playoffs there should be a break week. We didn't do that this year for some unusual reasons. I can tell you right now it's not going to happen in the next few years. We already know basically the schedule – and there will be a break week.”
That should be received as excellent news for those who have had the gall to speak their minds recently.
Hopefully it will be considered a win for those making their opinions known. Because the last thing we should wish for is a group of boring, vanilla, fence-sitters amongst the game’s best players. Their criticisms might forever be criticized, but it still beats the alternative.