Why Christina Aquilera Will Never Sing the National Anthem at the US Open

Defender and Pretender: Congressional Open, 2011

When I covered the NBA a couple of decades ago, I used to dread the obligatory pre-game performance of the National Anthem.  I have a robust sense of empathy and found it extremely uncomfortable to watch when a singer would panic and forget the words, which happened with alarming frequency, given that the performers were typically amateur and young.     So I took to hanging out back in the press room until after the anthem had been sung.   I self-diagnosed and named a curious new medical condition to explain my aversion: francisscottkeyesaphobia, defined as the “fear of watching someone humilate him- or herself by forgetting the words to the national anthem in front of thousands of people at a sporting event.”

Pebble Beach, Site of 2010 US Open

It’s too bad for Christina Aquilera that former Portland Trailblazer coach Maurice Cheeks wasn’t in attendance at this year’s Super Bowl, because he could have stepped up to help her out when she started ad-libbing over the country’s most famous lyrics.   Some years ago at a Blazer home game, a young girl performing the National Anthem froze mid-note, and Cheeks immediately walked out, put his arm around her shoulder and started singing with her, which restored her voice and won Cheeks the admiration of a lot of fans.


Almost every America sporting event now expropriates the National Anthem, a shameless tactic to enlist the patriotism and good will of fans for what is, after all, typically a commercial enterprise— one more lunge for your entertainment dollar.    Baseball started the anthem habit eighty years ago, and then only because the President of the United States was in attendance.   It took a while, but now it’s ubiquitous, and largely empty of significance—a weightless habit.

Ironically, the sport whose fans and practitioners, both amateur and professional, are collectively the most conservative among US sportsmen (with the possible exception of NASCAR), dispenses entirely with the anthem ritual.   Golf tournaments don’t have as formal a start as other sporting events, and besides, if you launched every player off the first tee with his national anthem ringing in his ears, it would take a month to finish a golf tournament.  At last year’s US Open, the winner was an Irishman (northern variety), the sixth foreign victor in the last ten years, and there were competitors from 25 countries in all.   And while it might have been refreshing to hear the Finnish national anthem, or South Africa’s, or Fiji’s, I am glad the USGA treats our national Open championship purely as a sporting event, and not as an excuse for a decorous display of patriotism.   The Open identifies and honors the best golfer, not the one from the toughest country.   It makes me proud to be an American.


TheAPosition writers are big fans of Phil Mickelson and John Daly although we don’t want to hear them sing our National Anthem.

3 Responses to “Why Christina Aquilera Will Never Sing the National Anthem at the US Open”

  1. Jay Stuller

    I too have always disliked the national anthem before games, starting with playing high school basketball during the middle of the Vietnam years. No one noticed, but I’d always bow my head. While I feel no need or impact in making a political statement today, the whole tradition is silly. And yes, it can be uncomfortable awaiting a potential train wreck in the singing. Worse, John, is that in Major League Baseball, God Bless America is now a standard feature of the seventh inning stretch. When it becomes so rote, the patriotism has little real meaning. My preference is that right before all games, no matter the sport, start with the playing of the first 30 seconds of Gimme Shelter, and when Keith hits those first power chords, the puck’s dropped, the jump ball is tossed and the pitcher lets go with the opening fastball.

  2. Tom Mac

    John, I’m in a raging debate with old college buddies who have nothing but disdain for golf. It’s one of those inane conversations that we used to have in the dorm rooms but the subject back then was: who’s better, Russell or Wilt? Can you give me some quick background on golf’s more common roots that I can use to dispel their modern day view of golf as an elitist game? How was Italy? Ciao.

  3. John Strawn

    Tommy–Golf suffers from its association with elitism in the US, that’s for sure. But golf was a very democratic game–a game of the people–first, and a past-time associated with almost exclusively with wealth and privilege only after the English discovered it and started exporting it around the world. Its origins are obscure, but there is no doubt it was a popular sport for two centuries in Scotland, where the version we play clearly originated, before the first English course was built in the 19th century. (Golf-like games existed in France and the Low Countries, too.) Confusing Scottish golf with English golf is like mistaking haggis for Yorkshire pudding. The first golf pros in Scotland were working-class guys who also made clubs and sometimes took care of the courses, too. The whole idea of the “country club” is an American invention, and pre-dates golf. It was a place for wealthy city dwellers to spend weekends in the serenity of the countryside without mingling with the masses. The latter were enjoying their fresh air and greenery in public parks, the first and most famous of which was Central Park in New York, the granddaddy of the American city park. Central Park was inspired by an English park, Birkenhead, near Liverpool, which Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of Central Park and the father of landscape architecture in the US, visited in the 1850s. There has always been a link between public parks, country clubs and golf. Publicly-owned golf courses, such as Eastmoreland and Heron Lakes in Portland, are special use parks, supported by the fees their users pay. Country club courses make up about 30% of the total number of courses in the USA today. Most of our courses are open for public play. Some of these are privately owned, while others are the property of the people. Most golfers don’t belong to country clubs.
    Another big myth about golf is that they are somehow harmful to the environment. Not sure how to address this, since the opponents of golf have a tea-party mentality that blinds them to anything with doesn’t align with their prejudices. Farming in all respects has an enormously greater impact on soils, water quality, and the environment in general than a golf course. For one thing, golf courses don’t disturb the soil. They do use water, but not in a way that harms ground-water in any way. Healthy turfgrass produces more oxygen per acre than a forest and sequesters carbon, so it defends against global warming. Defending golf feels a little like defending art. It’s not useful, but it’s fun and provides a nice diversion from the toils of daily life. People who hate golf likely don’t rail against museums, but they’re just as useless.
    Good luck with the debate, Tom. Don’t think it’s winnable once the hook of prejudice has been set. Your buddies won’t want to hear the good news about a game that employs hundreds of thousands of people, has given great pleasure to millions, and provides access to a pleasant environment in the company of friends. How much more do you want from any human invention?

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