Couldn’t Follow the Sun

We are told early on that death and taxes are inevitable, but we aren’t forewarned about the possibility of having a particular comment or question uttered to us over and over again by people who first meet us.

Based on my surname I have been asked: “Any relation to Elliot?” on 200-plus occasions. (This abated as Elliot Gould appeared in fewer movies.) Due to physical resemblance, I have been asked approximately 50 times whether anyone ever told me I look like Bill Clinton. (People don’t come out and say, “You look like him,” they ask if others have done so.)

The recurring question I have been stewing over lately involves occupation. Whenever someone I’ve recently met hears I’m a golf writer, there follows a brief pause (while they silently wonder, “Is that really a job?”) followed by the speculative comment: “So…. you must go to all the tournaments.”

What a fate—going to all the tournaments. Every week watching the same players and caddies gather on the practice tee and loiter on the putting green. The pulse-pounding thrill of pro-am day. The narrow victory on Sunday afternoon, followed by a beaming toddler jumping into the victorious player’s arms. I think I would prefer cryogenic storage.

Very few reporters actually follow the various tours, and most people in this profession produce material that appeals to the reader as a participant rather than as a fan. The reason they have a tournament every week is so that on the one week you actually feel like watching it, there it will be. And it will probably be wonderful and thrilling and filled with dramatic shotmaking. And you could try your luck the next weekend and be thrilled all over again. But after a while, it’s like: What are you doing indoors?

The Masters, the two Open championships, the Ryder Cup, the PGA maybe—these are critical exceptions. As for tour golf week in and week out, its highest purpose is to be there on the grill-room TV screen when you walk in after 18, a distant mirror to the real-life golf you’ve just experienced.

Here’s the acid test to show why pro golf could never be followed on TV the way major team sports are followed: Take all the biggest-name players—Woods, Els, Mickelson, Love, Couples, Garcia, Singh, you name it—and have all of them entered in every tournament, then play every tournament on the same golf course. The networks would pull the plug after three events. 

As a lifelong Red Sox fan I remember when the team was lousy and attendance was still solid. People said the charm of Fenway Park was enough to keep its turnstiles clicking, and they wisecracked that the Bosox didn’t have to win to sell tickets “because the fans come out to cheer for the ballpark.”

Golfers who watch golf on TV are half the time watching the golf course be played, not watching the players playing it. They turn on the L.A. Open and say, “Wow look at Riviera… and look at that shot that guy just hit.” Colonial, Harbour Town, TPC Stadium—you could put unnamed high school players on these tracks and I’d want to follow the proceedings

I did happen to be indoors watching TV on a sunny weekend afternoon two years ago when Don Pooley beat Tom Watson in a playoff to win the U.S. Senior Open, and that was pure bliss. Watson needed a late charge to try and force the playoff, so he made a point of birdying six of the last 10 holes. I kept watching because the golf course was so sublime on TV—Caves Valley GC in Baltimore, a Tillinghast heartbreaker.

So no, I don’t go to all the tournaments.

No relation to Elliot, either

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