MichiganGolf.com Column: In Defense of TV Sports
On a couch, somewhere in Lansing, MI - It's an exciting time for sports fans: NFL Playoffs, NBA and NHL in full swing. And the Winter Olympics on the horizon. TV + Sports = a remedy for the winter blahs.
Recently, however, I've become aware of a certain fringe element in American society: The non-sports fan.
The question posed by these radical extremists is, "Who cares? Why watch sports anyway? Get out and DO something." Little attempt is ever made at defending the spectator of the spectator sport. To be fair to the critics, it is true that many a spectator could do with a bit more activity in their lives.
To be fairer to the spectator, however, let me offer a serious defense. Of all programs on television, none other than sporting events allow the viewer to witness history as it is unfolding. Aside from war reporting (which is censored anyway), and the occasional special news bulletin (the most recent of which we wish had never happened), sporting events present the spectator with the opportunity to literally be in attendance as history is made, the rare opportunity to be able some day to tell others "I saw that happen." On or off of television, this is something very rare in the average person's life. We can't all be Forrest Gump, after all.
Granted, most games are hardly memorable, much less historic. But now and then, we spectators are indeed front row center at an event that qualifies as HISTORY. The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team's victory over The Soviet Union. Kerri Strug's valiant vault onto a fractured ankle. Cal Ripkin breaking Lou Gehrig's immortal endurance record. McGwire breaking the single-season HR record. And then Bonds breaking it again.
Watching these moments again on the Classic Sports cable network is simply not the same. No more so than watching the Zapruder film is like being at the parade when Kennedy was assassinated.
However, the traditional spectator sports aren't the only ones drawing us to the TV screen like moths to a porch light. I, along with a growing legion of fans, have discovered yet another sport to watch on TV, one which allows every single viewer an even more intimate connection to history: Golf. Now, I can already hear the groans of non-golfers, "Golf? Golf is so BORING!" This is especially true for those who have never toiled over a ball buried in a pot bunker or chipped in to save par. But once again, I offer two arguments in defense of a sport that is over two centuries older than the United States itself.
The first, as you may have predicted, is history. When Tiger Woods became the youngest player and the first non-white to win the Master's, I…was…there. And 2001-2002 — I was there for ALL of that! ‘Nuff said.
The second argument in favor of golf as a spectator sport is less obvious, yet more compelling. Compare golf to the other major spectator sports: Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, racing, boxing, tennis, or even figure skating. Which of these sports allows the average spectator the chance, or even the hint of a chance, at playing the sport at the same venue as the professionals seen on television? Consider the fact that, given a certain amount of time and a relatively small amount of money and patience, any golf fan could play a round on the very same course where the U.S. Open is being held this year: Bethpage Black.
I don't know about other sports fans, but I am quite certain that I will never get the chance to swing away at a 90 mph fastball at Yankee Stadium. Nor will I serve matchpoint centre-court at Wimbledon. Nor will I ever, ever, dunk a baskteball on any court, let alone the Target Center, where my Timberwolves play. Not even in my prime, when I was a three-sport athlete in high school, could I have done these things.
On the other hand, although I am not a good golfer, I do once in a great while smack a 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway. I do birdie - even eagle - the occasional hole. I have come within one foot of a hole-in-one. And when you add in the side bets with your playing partners, and the foursome stacked up behind you watching you tee off, a golfer is able to feel a semblance of the pressure felt by the pros. Even if I did hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer in Madison Square Garden, the buzzer would only be in my head, and no one, save a bored security guard, would be watching.
So, while a round at Augusta National may be a bit of a stretch, The TPC at Sawgrass is definitely within my reach. My brother-in-law played there two years ago and parred the 17th hole - the island green - two days in a row. So as I watch this year on television as the pros plunk balls into the water on that very same hole, I will be thinking: Bob…was…there, and someday I…will…be…there…too. This may be a tenuous connection to history, but it is the only connection many of us will ever have.
So bring me the TV clicker, and bring on the sports - especially golf.
January 20, 2002