You won’t get any swing tips from the Clubwoman, but she has plenty to say about the social anthropology of a complex, infuriating, and profoundly gratifying pastime. Below the latest essay, you’ll find links to selected Times Union posts, to be collected someday into a book called Preferred Lies.
The Tiger Myth
4 March 2021
With his latest vehicular calamity, Tiger Woods has entered the realm of myth. By “myth” I don’t mean “not real”—we already saw that in 2009, after his first fiasco in an SUV revealed the bad lie of his marital character.
No, I mean Tiger’s story looks like something out of Greek mythology. He’s one of those mortals who keep daring to appropriate godlike powers, until Zeus gets tired of the presumption and sends them plunging into oblivion.
Amid the red-and-black Sunday-outfit sincerity on TV last weekend, nobody said publicly what we all saw: once again, the fiasco is his own fault. And the third time may be the negative charm—killing his career, if not his mortal self.
Unlike the slo-mo hydrant crumple in 2009, and the medicated roadside doze in 2017, the latest debacle doesn’t even involve an outside agency. Apparently his courtesy SUV from the tournament he’d just hosted flipped off the road February 23 because of a commonplace combination of excess speed and insufficient attention.
Why does he do this stuff? Because he’s also a mythical creature—a human/machine hybrid, a golf bot—who seems to think above-and-beyond talent equates to similar status off the course. Fame validates him, money insulates him, and enablers cushion him, as he repeatedly assumes he’s immune from compliance with laws of marriage, traffic, and physics.
Tiger has convened our eyeballs for decades now, as a freak of nature, then a human train wreck, then a redeemed champion. During his debut years, his skin color added to his mythical creaturehood. Now he doesn’t transcend race so much as ignore it, for which he’s often critiqued. Yet tournament rosters still look pretty Wonder-Bread when he’s not in them.
As a white female golfer, I don’t know what to think of Tiger anymore. But I never really did, beyond this: TV golf is way more interesting when he’s in the field. At first the draw was his breathtaking dominance. When that began to fail, the unblinking camera eye showed hours of interesting self-extrication from trouble (when tournament coverage ordinarily focuses only on golfers playing well). Watching the show got excruciating, though, when his body stopped executing what his mind ordered.
I have nothing in common with Tiger Woods, aside from my occasional ability to putt a 30-footer into the hole, and his equally rare ability to miss a 3-footer. Nor do I find any sex appeal here.
He’s not a case of “men want to be him, women want to be with him” like Freddy Couples, golf’s dimmer equivalent of George Clooney. But then, neither is Phil Mickelson, Tiger’s generational rival. Both of them lack erotic allure, despite good looks, because wearing your self-regard on your sleeve isn’t sexy.
Still, this latest episode impresses me with how outsized Tiger’s life is. Most humans don’t pull off this scale anymore. The magnitude of his triumph and decline cycles contrasts with the blimplike prominence of the 45th President, who deflated when he left the office that elevated him. Woods retains his substance, as an undeniably game-changing sports force.
He has radically altered how golf is played and pro golfers are compensated, at least when male. The pillow-tummied stereotype has been eradicated by the bodybuilder who can join the 1% without even winning, thanks to Tiger-era purses and sponsorships.
That’s what the red-shirted legions were actually paying tribute to during last Sunday’s rounds. And, I grant you, the Tiger’s recent signs of heartfelt paternity meant everyone was genuinely glad for his kids’ sake that he was still alive. As am I.
Might as well invoke some more mythology: will Woods pull off yet another rise from the ashes?
Another great golfer did it. After Ben Hogan was literally run over by a bus in 1949, he won six of his nine career majors. But Hogan’s body was nine years younger and, more importantly, not already ridden with breakdowns and surgeries. Hogan played in excruciating pain for the rest of his career—Woods has already done a lot of that.
I’m not optimistic, but I’m ready to be surprised. Yet again.
Urinetown: Golf Edition
Let me ask a blunt question: Can you play 18 holes of golf without urinating? If so, you’re not a human, you’re a camel.
Running Is My Boyfriend. Golf Is My Crush
Running is dependable but kind of dull. Nobody calls it fun. Golf is roughly three sports in one, not even counting the walking-six-miles part, and that’s why nobody’s good at all of it.
Back of the Pack
That’s me, at the back of the pack. Why do I bother to compete, when I don’t come anywhere near a win? Because I focus on my own micro-competition, not the bigger picture.
Amateur Hour at Augusta
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur is better than no women’s tournament at all at Augusta. But it’s the wrong women on the wrong weekend.
If your fantasies are running toward plush fairways, pristine greens, punctual play, and a place where everybody knows your name—not just in the bar, but also the pro shop, locker room and parking lot—then maybe this is the year you join a private club.
The Invisible Golfer
The charity tournament I played in raised good money for a good cause, but the event transported me back to an era where “golfer” was synonymous with “male.”
How to Help a Newcomer Make Friends With Golf
As an experienced golfer, you can have a big impact on a newcomer’s understanding and enjoyment of the game while improving your own skills at the same time.
How to Begin Golf as an Adult
Golf is a complex sport, but as a beginner you’ll find it fun from the get-go if you tap into its social aspects, make some effort to learn the game, and keep the pressure off.
Best Frenemies: Competing in a Golf League
Leagues are one thing in team sports, and another in golf. In our arena it’s not Us Against the World, it’s You Versus Me. You’re competing head-to-head with your fellow league members, and for many of us, that means intimate friends.
What Does a Golfing Woman Want?
The simple answer is, women want the same things as men: opportunity to play and enjoyment when we do it. But because we’re women, golf tends to toss a lot of loose and fixed impediments in our way.
Throw Out Your Golf Shirts!
The collared knit jersey with short sleeves was once the hallmark of serious athleticism. Now it’s popular not because it frees up the body for vigorous endeavor, but because it drapes comfortably over the paunch. It’s the uniform of tech entrepreneurs, chain store salespeople, and week-long casual Fridays.
Three Things That Women Who Play Golf Have in Common
Women are a minority in golf discriminated against by the very structure of the playing field. What does it take to succeed in the face of adversity? Assertion and patience.
Golf and Sex and Trump. (Have I Got Your Attention?)
In golf and other arenas, Donald Trump is entirely capable of recognizing professional competence in women. It just doesn’t count unless accompanied by appropriate weight, meticulous but invisible self-care, keen fashion sense, and non-expression of viewpoints that differ from his.
Golf Is Hard. You Gotta Problem With That?
People like me play golf precisely because it is difficult. When we do do well, the experience is profoundly satisfying. In the meantime, golf’s mental and physical challenge demands attention that diverts one from worrying about the real challenges of life.
Get Over Yourself: Ten Ways to Turn Around Your Round
Medical metaphors work best to describe my scores—manic depressive, EKG-like, schizophrenic. I often find myself trying to recover not just from a bad hole, but a whole series of mishaps. For my benefit, and yours, I’ve gathered a list of tactics for finding the comeback trail in the middle of a round.